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Coronavirus

Shanghai supermarket shelves empty as China’s residents panic buy amid COVID-19 surge

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Shanghai recorded a steep climb in COVID-19 cases Tuesday as panic-buying in the Chinese city of about 25 million stripped supermarket shelves bare.

Millions endured a second day of lockdown after authorities effectively split the country’s biggest urban area in two, with residents of the city’s eastern half confined to their homes for four days and subjected to mandatory testing.

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China reported 6,886 domestic COVID-19 cases nationwide on Tuesday, with more than 4,400 of them detected in Shanghai, now the center of the country’s worst COVID-19 outbreak since the early days of the pandemic.

Images showed some supermarket shelves in the city emptied of all goods as residents rushed to stock up before being locked down.

“After being unable to grab any groceries this morning, I went back to sleep, and all I dreamt about was buying food at the supermarket,” one user wrote on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.

“I’d never have thought that society today would be worried over buying groceries.”

In a bid to keep Shanghai’s economy running, authorities have avoided the hard lockdowns regularly deployed in other Chinese cities, instead opting for rolling, localized restrictions.

The area locked down on Monday is the sprawling eastern district of Pudong, which includes the main international airport and glittering financial center.

The lockdown will last until Friday, then switch to the city’s more populated western Puxi section, home to the historic Bund riverfront.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

Several exhibition halls in the city have been converted into mass quarantine centers, lining up row upon row of beds.

One Shanghai resident surnamed Wang told AFP that she had been in one mass center in Pudong since Saturday after testing positive.

“The conditions of the makeshift quarantine center I’m in are pretty tough,” she said, adding that there are around 2,500 camp beds grouped together in the main hall.

“The bathroom conditions are not good enough, they are cleaned twice per day but there are too many people (using them). It’s pretty bad.”

The city’s airports, railway stations and international shipping ports remain operational, while key manufacturers are allowed to resume production after a brief halt, state media reported.

The Shanghai government has also said it will offer some tax and rent relief to businesses affected by the lockdown in a bid to reassure employers in the important commercial center.

Customers wearing masks shop in front of partially empty shelves at a supermarket during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hong Kong, China February 28, 2022. (Reuters)
Customers wearing masks shop in front of partially empty shelves at a supermarket during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hong Kong, China February 28, 2022. (Reuters)

Elsewhere in China, new cases have continued to decline in Hong Kong following a recent wave that has led to more than 7,000 deaths.

The semi-autonomous city recorded 7,680 new cases, with no immediate word on whether authorities plan to proceed with mass testing of all of its 7.4 million people.

Hong Kong supermarkets also saw empty shelves in supermarkets across the global financial hub at the peak of the outbreak.

A customer wearing a face mask shops in front of partially empty shelves at a supermarket, ahead of mass coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing, in Hong Kong, China March 4, 2022. (Reuters)
A customer wearing a face mask shops in front of partially empty shelves at a supermarket, ahead of mass coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing, in Hong Kong, China March 4, 2022. (Reuters)

China has largely kept virus outbreaks under control over the past two years through strict zero-tolerance measures including mass lockdowns of cities and provinces for even small numbers of cases.

But omicron has proven harder to stamp out.

At a press briefing on Monday, health expert Wu Fan said it was “necessary to take more resolute measures” to eliminate community transmission.

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