Shanghai fears new lockdown as millions test for Covid amid sweltering heat

Shanghai authorities have ordered most of the city’s 16 districts to undergo two rounds of testing from Tuesday to Thursday after a case of the new sub-variant BA.5.2.1 was found in the community on July 8.

The highly contagious variant BA.5 is rapidly spreading around the world and is regarded by the authorities as a serious threat. China is the latest major country to pursue a strict zero-coronavirus strategy.

New Omicron sub-variants have been reported in several Chinese cities, including the capital Beijing, the northeastern port city of Dalian, and the central city of Xi’an, which was closed for seven days due to the outbreak.

Rising cases — and attendant restrictions — are becoming scorching heat swept the country. In Shanghai, authorities raised the alert level to red on Sunday as temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

The sweltering heat has made mass testing even more agonizing for residents, some of whom have to queue for hours, as well as Covid workers who are covered head to toe in airtight personal protective equipment.

A health worker puts his hands on a block of ice in front of a fan to cool off at a Covid testing station in Shanghai July 12.

Pictures of workers in protective suits lying on blocks of ice have circulated on Chinese social media, and health experts have warned of heatstroke among Covid workers who spend long hours outdoors in thick protective clothing.

Earlier this month, Shanghai experienced a spike in infections due to an outbreak linked to a karaoke bar. More than 400 cases have been reported in the last 10 days.

The growing outbreak has raised fears that the commercial center is returning to mass lockdown just weeks after its residents emerged from two months of grueling home confinement.

City of 25 million end of citywide lockdown in early June, but continues to impose severe restrictions, including relentless test as well as instant locks in the area where cases of Covid have been detected.

As of Tuesday, 240 districts in Shanghai have been marked as medium or high risk areas and placed under quarantine.

Shanghai residents lined up for Covid tests in a closed area on July 10.

Shanghai officials have repeatedly denied that a citywide lockdown is imminent, but this has not convinced residents, who noted that authorities also made similar announcements in March ahead of the previous lockdown.

On Monday, two district committees in Shanghai said residents should “prepare enough food and medicine at home for 14 days, just in case.”

Dozens of Chinese cities issue heat wave warnings as temperatures rise
The notifications, after being widely circulated online, caused panic among residents, many of whom frightened by their long isolation in April and May, leading to massive food shortages and blocking access to medical care.

In response to the hype, a district committee worker told the state-run Health Times that the proposal was intended to prepare residents for the growing outbreak, as close contacts, as well as secondary contacts with an infected case, could also lead to a district lockdown.

“Okay, let’s spend our whole lives in fear of food shortages and in the shadow of hoarding essentials,” reads a comment on Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like platform.

“More than three years have passed, when will this end? How many people have three years in their lives? Enough!” said the other.