Three Covid cases in Shanghai lead to lockdowns, school closures and flight cancelations

Three locally transmitted Covid-19 cases were reported in Shanghai last week, after nearly four months without any new infections. The three new cases are friends who traveled to neighboring Suzhou from November 19 to 21. All three were fully vaccinated and have been transferred to a hospital designated for Covid-19 treatment. A total of 55,278 people linked to the three cases have tested negative. Zhang Wenhong, Director of the Infectious Diseases Department at Huashan Hospital Affiliated with Fudan University, said unexpected waves of infections may become normal in winter. “Our country is still sticking to the strategy of rapid response and precise prevention and control,” he added. Meanwhile, Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, reported two new cases, local health authorities said. In Manzhouli, a city in Inner Mongolia bordering Russia, 28 cases were reported over the past three days. All roads connecting the city to other locations are being tightly controlled. Except for the delivery of daily necessities, all people and vehicles are prohibited from leaving the city.

At least 20 hospitals in Shanghai were temporarily put under lockdown for investigations related to the outbreak. These include the headquarters of Huashan Hospital, Renji Hospital, Shanghai General Hospital, and Shanghai No 10 People's Hospital. Online services are still available at local hospitals, which can be accessed via their WeChat accounts. Ruijin Hospital's 55 departments have opened free online consultation services, and 30 departments offer online clinical services. People can talk to doctors via video calls and send photos. After consulting online services, prescribed medicines will be delivered to patients by logistics companies. By November 29, all hospitals resumed normal operations.

Three residential areas have also been locked down and declared a medium-risk areas. The Xijiao Jinlu complex in suburban Shanghai is only several hundred meters from the Qingpu Campus of Shanghai United International School and there are also several kindergartens nearby. The sudden lockdown led to anxiety among parents and grandparents trying get their children back from school, as they faced the “unexpected situation." A contingency plan was launched immediately, and if needed officials, volunteers and police were mobilized to bring the children back home. Three nucleic acid test spots were set up at the complex within three hours of the lockdown and medical workers visited three seniors aged over 90 to provide tests at their homes. Spare rooms were made available for non-residents, such as construction workers and domestic helpers for them to stay, and two vehicles were arranged exclusively for the delivery of daily necessities to the residents. A team of 150 volunteers was set up to take charge of goods delivery, cleaning and maintenance.

Domestic airlines are offering free ticket changes or refunds for flights taking off, landing or transiting at Shanghai's two airports. The Shanghai-based China Eastern, Spring and Juneyao airlines as well as Guangzhou-based China Southern, which are the biggest operators at the Hongqiao and Pudong airports, have issued free flight change or refund notices. Travelers can either cancel their flights or change to any other date by the end of 2021 free of charge. China's civil aviation authority has ordered domestic airlines to offer free ticket refunds for recent flights due to Covid-19. Travelers can cancel their travel plans any time before the plane takes off.

Leading Chinese epidemiologists brushed aside the possibility that the Omicron variant will have a major impact on China, pointing to the country's current dynamic zero-Covid policy and swift response to flare-ups that ensure the country is able to deal with any variant. The new mutation, declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “variant of concern,” was discovered in South Africa and has since been detected in many other countries including Belgium and the Netherlands. Despite having one of the world's highest Covid-19 vaccination rates, Israel was the first country to ban foreigners from entering in response to the new variant. Countries such as the UK, and some other EU countries and the U.S. have imposed travel bans on South Africa and neighboring countries. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, which has reported two cases of the new variant, has already banned entry of non-Hong Kong residents who have been in eight African countries within 21 days of arrival. Only about 24% of South Africans are fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University data, compared with nearly 60% of U.S. residents and 76.8% in China.

The Chinese mainland and Hong Kong are expected to resume quarantine-free travel as Hong Kong has basically fulfilled the requirements, and Hong Kong has entered the implementation stage for the orderly border reopening with the mainland, Hong Kong officials said. The resumption of quarantine-free travel may start in early December with a daily quota of 1,000 people. Chinese analysts said that resumption of quarantine-free travel between the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong is the first step for the entire country to reopen its borders, which may come as early as next year.

China's top respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan said the country had fully vaccinated 1.08 billion people as of November 24, accounting for 76.8% of the total population and laying a solid foundation for achieving herd immunity by the end of this year. He stressed that the West advocates personal freedom, but this eventually leads to poor handling of the pandemic. “What we need is collective freedom, social freedom and national freedom. Only with these freedoms can we have individual freedom,” he said. Zhong pointed out that in the West people have the freedom not to wear masks, the freedom to assemble and the freedom not to get vaccinated. But the result is the spread of the epidemic, with repeated outbreaks involving large numbers of infections and deaths. “But in the fight against global public health events, China pays attention to the highest human rights: the right to life, more importantly, the right to health. People wear masks, consciously limit their activities and cooperate with nucleic acid testing to reduce the spread of the virus.”

This overview is based on reports by the China Daily, Global Times and Shanghai Daily.