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Chinese city with 21 mln population put under draconian COVID-19 lockdown

The southwestern Chinese metropolis of Chengdu announced a lockdown of its 21.2 million residents as it launched four days of citywide COVID-19 testing. Some of the country’s most populous and economically important cities are currently dealing with outbreaks.

Residents of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, were ordered to stay at home from 6 p.m. on Thursday, with households allowed to send one person per day to shop for necessities, the city government said in a statement.

Chengdu, which reported 157 domestically transmitted infections on Wednesday, is the largest Chinese city to be locked down since Shanghai in April and May. It remained unclear whether the lockdown would be lifted after the mass testing ends on Sunday.

As of Thursday the Sichuan province has recorded a total of 3,689 cases and three deaths.

Other major cities including Shenzhen in the south and Dalian in the northeast have also stepped up COVID-19 restrictions this week, ranging from work-from-home requirements to the closure of entertainment businesses in some districts.

The moves curtail the activities of tens of millions of people, intensifying the challenges for China to minimise the economic impact of a ‘dynamic-zero’ COVID-19 policy that has kept China’s borders mostly shut to international visitors and make it an outlier as other countries try to live with the coronavirus.

Most of the curbs are intended to last a few days for now, although two provincial cities in northern China have extended curbs slightly beyond initial promises.

Chengdu’s lockdown sparked panic buying of essentials among residents.

“I am waiting in a very long queue to get in the grocery shop near my home,” 28-year-old engineer Kya Zhang said, adding that she was worried about access to fresh food if the lockdown is extended.

Hwabao Trust economist Nie Wen said that because Chengdu acted quickly to lock down, it was unlikely to see a repeat of Shanghai’s two-month ordeal.

Non-essential employees in Chengdu were asked to work from home and residents were urged not to leave the city unless needed. Residents who must leave their residential compounds for hospital visits or other special needs must obtain approval from neighbourhood staffers.

For Chinese President Xi Jinping, unlike most global leaders, the political risks of opening up are still far greater than the benefits.

Missteps in early 2020 to minimise — and in some cases obscure — the initial outbreak in Wuhan undermined the social contract that underpins the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy: An acceptance of one-party rule in return for competent governance that keeps the public safe and improves overall quality of life.

The conundrum now for Xi, however, is that China has staked so much on avoiding virus fatalities, it cannot exit the pandemic as other countries have — by accepting greater death as a reality of living permanently with the virus.

China is currently spending billions to build quarantine camps all over the country as mandatory isolation is part of the ‘COVID-19 zero’ policy.

Mainland China has reported no COVID-19 death since May, leaving the death toll at 5,226.

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