US orders non-essential personnel to leave Shanghai as virus surges

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

China is sticking firmly to a “zero Covid” policy, aimed at eliminating infections through rigid lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions.

But the policy has come under strain since March as more than 100,000 cases in Shanghai led to a lockdown of the city’s 25 million people, prompting widespread public outcry over food shortages and an inflexible policy of sending all person who tests positive in 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.

China’s largest city reported more than 23,000 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday.

Most of its residents remain strictly confined, although some who live in neighborhoods deemed to be at low virus risk have been allowed out of their homes, sparking scenes of jubilation shared on Chinese social media.

Shanghai residents have begun to chafe at tough coronavirus lockdown restrictions Hector RETAMALAFP

The US Embassy said last week it would allow non-essential employees to leave its Shanghai consulate due to the spike in cases, warning Chinese citizens they could face ‘arbitrary enforcement’ anti-virus measures.

The State Department is now ordering the employees to leave, because “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”, the spokesperson said in the statement.

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

Authorities have prepared tens of thousands of new beds in more than 100 makeshift hospitals under a policy of isolating anyone who tests positive for the virus, whether or not they have symptoms.

Locals have begun to chafe at the lockdown restrictions, and many have taken to social media to express their anger over food shortages and tough controls – including the recent killing of a pet corgi by a police officer. health.

An unpopular policy of separating infected children from virus-free parents – now softened – also sparked a rare outburst of public anger last week.

But officials are not budging on their zero-tolerance approach.

The city’s health official, Wu Qianyu, told a news conference on Sunday that the city “won’t relax at all.”

Major online delivery platforms said they would bolster food stocks and recruit thousands of drivers to bolster supplies of basic goods.

Michelle J. Kelley