(Shanghai) Shanghai announced on Monday that only three people in the city have died from COVID-19 since a strict lockdown began in late March, despite several hundred thousand positive cases in recent weeks.
Posted at 6:39
Updated at 7:54 am
China has reported just 4,641 deaths officially linked to the coronavirus since the pandemic began, an extremely low number given the population of the world’s most populous country (1.4 billion people).
A health success attributed to its zero-COVID-19 strategy: confinement as soon as cases appear, isolation of people declared positive, visas issued drop by drop, quarantine on arrival in the territory or even tracking of movements .
Shanghai, the country’s economic capital of 25 million people, has been hit by an epidemic related to the highly contagious Omicron variant for several weeks. It led to partial containment in late March, then total containment since early April.
Despite hundreds of thousands of positive cases registered in recent weeks, no deaths have been reported so far, which raises certain questions given the low vaccination rate among the elderly – a very exposed segment of the population.
Shanghai City Hall on Monday reported the deaths of three people, aged 89 to 91, who said they were suffering from underlying diseases.
The two deaths previously announced in China were announced in mid-March in Jilin Province (northeast), which borders North Korea. They were the first in over a year.
Many Shanghai residents have struggled to stock up on fresh produce in recent weeks, particularly due to a lack of people to deliver the goods.
Unverified videos of dogs being beaten to death, suspected of being able to transmit the virus, have also caused outrage on social media.
Many Shanghainese also fear being sent to haphazard sanitation quarantine centers where people who test positive, even asymptomatic, are isolated.
In some cases, due to lack of space, authorities have confiscated private homes to house these people, leading to clashes between police and local residents last week.
However, Shanghai has no plans to ease restrictions.
The city’s health department reported 22,248 new cases Monday — nearly 90 percent asymptomatic. Low compared to the rest of the world, these numbers are very high for China.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is making the low death toll a political argument, showing that it puts people’s lives ahead of economic considerations, in contrast to Western democracies, where the coronavirus has claimed countless lives.
For its part, the Ministry of Health emphasizes that relaxing restrictions too much could overwhelm the health system and cause millions of deaths. Mainly because the vaccination rate among seniors is still low: only slightly more than half of the over 80-year-olds have received a booster vaccination.
However, according to many experts, political considerations also play a role.
The CCP, which derives some of its legitimacy from its handling of the epidemic, is set to organize a major meeting in late 2022 at which Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, should be given a third five-year term at the helm of the party, barring any catastrophe.
“It’s a delicate and crucial year for the regime,” said Lynette Ong, professor of political science at the University of Toronto (Canada).
“China always attaches great importance to social stability. And a health crisis would potentially be very disruptive in that context.”
A political element that is definitely taken into account by the authorities in Shanghai.
In order to ensure the isolation of those who tested positive, they have set up tens of thousands of beds in exhibition centers or prefabricated buildings in the past few weeks.
However, authorities have eased a controversial policy of separating coronavirus-positive children from parents who have tested negative.
The lockdown on Shanghai, where much of China’s foreign trade takes place, continues to weigh heavily on the economy, particularly in terms of manufacturing and transportation.