SHANGHAI: Shanghai is transforming conference centers and conscripting neighboring provinces to create isolation facilities for hundreds of thousands of people, a sign of its commitment to a zero tolerance approach to Covid-19 amid China’s worst outbreak to date.
The Chinese financial hub is adding tens of thousands of beds to what are already some of the world’s biggest isolation sites as it sticks to a policy of quarantining all those positive for the virus, regardless of severity, plus everyone they interacted with while infected. Nearly 150,000 people have been identified as close contacts and put into isolation. More than 100,000 others are considered secondary contacts and are being monitored, according to the government.
It’s a strategy that grew out of the original outbreak in Wuhan, which China successfully quelled, but is proving more challenging to maintain in the face of ongoing outbreaks and more transmissible variants. The Shanghai government is doubling down on the effort in response, vowing to further speed up the building effort.
Shanghai reported 21,222 new local infections on Friday, a record daily tally, as municipal authorities extended what is now a citywide lockdown. Complaints about poor management and the indefinite confinement are emerging from the city’s 25 million residents as they grow increasingly desperate, with food and medical care in short supply.
There is no sign of respite from the central government, however. The Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper defended President Xi Jinping‘s stringent virus strategy on Friday, saying in a front page commentary that the Covid Zero policy is essential to saving lives and keeping the economy going.
The city has turned the Shanghai New International Expo Center into an isolation facility with almost 15,000 beds. The cavernous National Exhibition and Convention Center, the venue for China’s biggest import trade event, is being converted to house another 50,000 people.
Gymnasiums, indoor stadiums and hotels across the city have also been taken over by the government. Four city-level makeshift quarantine facilities with a combined 38,000 beds have been put into service, and the municipal government is speeding up construction of more, said Jin Chen, vice director of the city’s housing department, said at a briefing.
Locations outside of Shanghai are also being brought into the effort. Various quarantine projects are under construction in Zhejiang and Jiangsu to help handle as many as 60,000 people from Shanghai.
One Shanghai resident and dance instructor, who asked to be identified only as Xiao due to the sensitive nature of the topic, was sent on a shuttle bus into quarantine at the Shanghai Indoor Stadium early Wednesday morning. She was told during a midnight phone call from her neighborhood committee that she tested positive for Covid.
The stadium was turned into a makeshift quarantine center and divided into six sections, each able to hold 400 patients, Xiao said. Her temperature dropped on Thursday and she was feeling much better, though testing wasn’t available. Just one emergency doctor was on call.
Xiao was told that everyone would be moving to a temporary hospital once beds opened up. The city is building more of those as well.
“I hope the government can listen to what the people want because even if we can reach Covid Zero, it will come back again sooner or later,” she said. “We all just want a normal life.”