TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) – Volunteer and low-level government workers in Shanghai have erected metal barriers in several districts to block off small streets and entrances to apartment complexes as China hardens its strict “zero-COVID” approach in the metropolis.
In the city’s financial district, Pudong, the barriers – either thin metal sheets or mesh fences – were set up in several neighborhoods under a local government directive, according to Caixin, a Chinese business media outlet. Buildings where positive cases have been found sealed their main entrances with a small opening through which pandemic prevention workers can pass.
On Sunday, China reported 21,796 new socially transmitted COVID-19 infections, the vast majority of which were asymptomatic cases in Shanghai. Across the country, many cities and provinces have enforced a version of a lockdown in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus.
The latest outbreak, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, has spread across the country, but has been particularly large in Shanghai. The city, a financial hub of 25 million people, has counted hundreds of thousands of cases, but fewer than 100 deaths since the eruption began nearly two months ago.
An AP study of the death toll showed that despite a history of narrow criteria for linking deaths to certain diseases, particularly COVID-19, the authorities have changed how they count positive cases, leading to a slippery slope in how they arrive to a final death toll. The result is almost certainly an understatement of the true death toll.
On social media, people posted videos of the new barriers being set up on Saturday, with some expressing anger over the measures. The barriers are supposed to leave highways unblocked, Caixin reported.
In a video confirmed by the AP, residents who left a building in Shanghai’s Xuhui district demolished the barricade fence at their main entrance and searched for the security guard they believed was responsible for setting it up.
Shanghai uses a step-by-step system where neighborhoods are divided into three categories based on their risk of transfer. Those in the first category face the most stringent COVID-19 controls and were the main target of the new tightened measures. In the third category, some buildings allow people to leave their homes and visit public areas.
In Shanghai, authorities reported 39 new COVID-19 deaths, raising the official death toll to 4,725 by the end of Saturday, the National Health Commission said Sunday.
The city’s closure has attracted global attention for its strict approach and sometimes dangerous consequences. Many residents of the city have had difficulty getting groceries, resorting to barter and mass buying. Others have not been able to get adequate medical care in a timely manner due to the strict control of movement.
On Friday, Chinese Internet users shared a six-minute video called “April Voices,” documenting some of the most challenging public moments the city has experienced in its nearly month-long shutdown. One part features the sound of residents of a Shanghai community protesting on April 8, shouting, “Send us food! Send us food! Send us food!” unisont.
The video covered WeChat’s timelines before it was suddenly removed by censors on Saturday.
Chinese authorities continue to say that the “zero-COVID” strategy is the best way forward given low vaccination rates in people over 60 and that omicron would result in many deaths and serious illnesses if the country stopped its strict approach .
Associated Press journalist Penny Wang contributed to this report from Bangkok.
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