Lockdowns Spread in China as Covid Cases Surge in Shanghai and Other Areas

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BEIJING — Cinemas, theaters and museums have closed in downtown Shanghai, and tickets have been refunded. The vast city’s school system announced late Friday that it would switch to online learning. And across China, more than 100 neighborhoods have been labeled medium-risk or high-risk Covid zones, with frequent mandatory testing and partial or complete lockdowns.

After two years of posting one of the world’s most successful track records in managing the coronavirus, China suddenly faces a wave of cases. The country’s National Health Commission said Friday that 1,100 new cases had been detected nationwide the day before.

Three-fifths of the cases this week are in people with no symptoms, a pattern that Chinese officials attribute to the country’s high vaccination rate, and to extensive testing that is uncovering infections in people who appear healthy. But health officials caution that the high proportion of asymptomatic infections is no cause for complacency.

“From a clinical point of view, no matter whether it is a clinically confirmed case or a clinically asymptomatic infection, they are all virus-positive infected people, and they are all contagious,” said Wu Jinglei, the director of the Shanghai Health Commission.

Most of China’s new cases have been in cities that attribute their outbreaks to the Omicron variant. Tiny pockets of the Delta variant are still occurring along China’s borders.

Each day, the National Health Commission announces the number of new cases from the day before, and it shows a steep ascent. Looking just at the announcements on Fridays, there were 60 cases nationwide three weeks ago, 104 cases two weeks ago, 117 a week ago and then 1,100 on Friday.

The cases reported on Friday were in 17 of China’s 31 provinces. The National Health Commission announced Friday that it would allow the commercial sale of Covid rapid test kits, which China has avoided until now in favor of nasal or throat swabs that are processed at government-approved laboratories. Pharmacies and online stores are now allowed to sell them.

Several entire cities in northeastern China have gone into lockdown despite urgings from national officials to be more selective in choosing how extensively to restrict people’s movements. The latest city to do so was Changchun, a large car-manufacturing center, which locked down on Friday.

China has kept the virus under tight control until now with a national system of quickly detecting and quarantining anyone with a fever, along with all of that person’s contacts. Even the contacts of these contacts are sometimes required to quarantine.

But finding healthy yet infectious people and quickly tracing their movements has proved more difficult. “We need to dig out the asymptomatic people, and it is sometimes more difficult to trace,” Mr. Wu said.

Li You contributed research.

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