Covid-19: Citing security concerns, US orders all non-essential Shanghai consulate staff to leave

The United States said on Tuesday it had ordered all non-essential employees of its Shanghai consulate to leave, expressing concern for the safety of Americans in China as the government enforces strict containment measures to contain Covid-19. 19.

China has stuck to a “zero Covid” policy, aiming to eliminate all infections through hard lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions.

But the policy has come under strain since March, with more than 100,000 cases in Shanghai driving the city’s 25 million people into lockdown.

The United States has ordered all non-essential employees of its Shanghai consulate to leave, fearing for their safety, an embassy spokesperson said in a statement on April 12, 2022. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP

It sparked widespread outcry over food shortages and an inflexible policy of sending anyone who tested positive to quarantine centres.

The US State Department ordered the departure “due to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak,” a spokesperson for its embassy in Beijing said in a statement.

U.S. diplomats also raised their “concerns about the safety and well-being of U.S. citizens with officials in the People’s Republic of China,” the statement added.

“It is best that our employees and their families be reduced in number and that our operations be reduced as we deal with changing circumstances on the ground,” it read.

Shanghai reported more than 23,000 new infections on Tuesday, while dozens of cities across the country battled smaller outbreaks.

Community volunteers deliver vegetables to be distributed by the local government to residents of a compound during a Covid-19 lockdown in Shanghai’s Pudong district on April 12, 2022. Photo: AFP/LIU JIN

Some Shanghai residents who live in neighborhoods considered low virus risk were allowed out of their homes this week, but unclear rules and the threat of re-entering lockdown if new cases are discovered have left most in limbo.

Criticism of China’s relentless approach to crushing epidemics is mounting, especially as the rest of the world learns to live with the pandemic

Tens of millions of people are in lockdown across the country, fearing a huge impact on consumer spending and the wider economy.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce has warned that China’s coronavirus strategy is “eroding the confidence of foreign investors”.

In a letter seen by AFP, he urged the Chinese government to change its approach by vaccinating the elderly – among whom inoculation rates are low – and allowing people with mild symptoms to self-quarantine. residence.

Nomura analysts have warned that China has been “facing an increasing risk of recession since mid-March”, calculating that 45 cities are currently under full or partial lockdown – accounting for 40% of China’s GDP and more than a quarter of his population.

After repeated lockdowns, “many individuals are exhausted, unemployed or underemployed, and have depleted their savings to a level at which they now need to cut spending,” they said.

Public anger

Beijing hit back at US complaints, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Saturday lambasting the “baseless accusations” and insisting that China’s policy was “scientific and effective”.

Shanghai authorities have vowed the city will “not relax at all”, preparing tens of thousands of new beds to receive every person who tests positive, whether or not they have symptoms.

Residents took to social media to talk about food shortages and tough controls, including the killing of a pet corgi by a health worker and a now-softened policy of separating infected children from disease-free parents. virus.

On Tuesday, Shanghai residents were still deciphering the details of an announcement that allowed some people living in areas with relatively few cases to start leaving their compounds.

Monday’s adjustment established three levels of controls based on workload.

But freedom still seems a long way off for most of the city’s inhabitants, with at least one southern district on the lowest level, allowing residents only once a day to stock up.

Chinese social media was abuzz on Tuesday over a viral clip that appeared to show a Shanghai couple pleading with police not to send them to a quarantine facility after they were allegedly misdiagnosed as Covid cases.

Authorities later said “no errors in judgment occurred” on the part of officials.

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Michelle J. Kelley