Shanghai announced on Monday that only three people have died from Covid-19 in the city since the start of the strict lockdown in late March, despite several hundred thousand positive cases in recent weeks.
China has only reported 4,641 deaths officially linked to the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, an extremely low number considering the number of inhabitants of the most populous country in the world (1.4 billion inhabitants).
A health success attributed to its Covid zero strategy: confinements as soon as cases appear, isolation of people who test positive, visas issued in dribs and drabs, quarantine on arrival in the territory or even movement tracking.
The economic capital of the country, with a population of 25 million inhabitants, Shanghai has been affected for several weeks by an epidemic outbreak linked to the highly contagious Omicron variant. It led to partial containment in late March, then full containment from early April. Despite the hundreds of thousands of positive cases registered in recent weeks, no deaths have been reported so far, which raises some doubts in view of the low vaccination rate among older adults, a highly exposed population.
Shanghai City Hall on Monday reported the deaths of three people, ages 89 to 91, saying they had underlying illnesses. The two previous deaths announced in China had been announced in mid-March in the province of Jilin (northeast), which borders North Korea. They were the first in over a year.
Many Shanghai residents, confined, have had difficulties in recent weeks to stock up on fresh produce, in particular due to the lack of people to deliver the products. Unverified videos of dogs beaten to death suspected of transmitting the virus have also caused outrage on social media.
Many Shanghainese also fear being sent to quarantine centers, with messy hygiene, where people who test positive, even asymptomatic, are sent to be isolated. Due to lack of space, the authorities have in some cases requisitioned private houses to house these people, which caused clashes between police and neighbors last week.
However, Shanghai is not planning an easing of restrictions. The municipal health department reported 22,248 new cases on Monday, almost 90% asymptomatic. Low compared to the rest of the world, these figures are very high for China.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is turning the low death toll into a political argument, showing that it puts people’s lives above economic considerations, unlike Western democracies where the coronavirus has claimed countless lives. For its part, the Ministry of Health stresses that making the restrictions too flexible could overwhelm the health system and cause millions of deaths. In particular, because the vaccination rate remains low among older people: only a little more than half of those over 80 years of age have received a booster dose.
But political considerations are also at play, according to many experts. The CCP, which derives its legitimacy in part from its management of the epidemic, will organize an important meeting at the end of 2022 during which Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, should obtain, barring cataclysm, a third five-year term at the helm. from the party.
“This is a sensitive and crucial year for the regime,” analyzes Lynette Ong, professor of political science at the University of Toronto (Canada). “China always puts a huge emphasis on social stability. And a health crisis would be potentially very damaging in that context.”
A political element necessarily taken into account by the Shanghai authorities. To guarantee the isolation of those who test positive, tens of thousands of beds have been installed in exhibition centers or prefabricated structures in recent weeks.
However, authorities have relaxed a controversial policy of separating coronavirus-positive children from parents who test negative. The confinement of Shanghai, through which much of China’s foreign trade passes, continues to weigh heavily on the economy, particularly in terms of production and transportation.