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In Shanghai, lockdown blues make way for Covid testing gripes

Residents freed from their homes in China’s most populous city face long lines for frequent P.C.R. tests required to use public transportation or enter malls and offices.
/ Source: Reuters

SHANGHAI — While a two-month Covid lockdown is all but over in Shanghai, residents’ relief is quickly giving way to frustration that they now face hours waiting in line for virus tests and the negative results they must show to be allowed to enter public spaces.

China’s business and commercial hub lifted lockdowns for most of its 25 million residents on Wednesday. But citizens are required to have proof they’ve taken a Covid test within the last 72 hours in order to enter areas like malls and offices, or even to use subways and buses.

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Authorities have built 15,000 testing sites and trained thousands of workers to swab throats. Still, long, snaking lines amid early summer heat of up to 88 degrees Fahrenheit became a common sight on Wednesday and Thursday, with some people saying they lined up for two hours.

One person posted a picture online of a sign at a booth warning of a 4.5-hour wait. The hashtag “Shanghai P.C.R. testing” garnered 190 million views on the social media platform Weibo on Thursday.

“It is troublesome, but we have no choice,” said Shanghai resident Xu Xiaojun. “This is for everyone’s good.”

Other Chinese cities including Beijing and Shenzhen have imposed similar requirements under a national “zero-Covid” policy that aims to cut off every infection chain.

Despite the deep discontent stirred by Shanghai’s stringent curbs — some 2.5 million in the city are still under lockdown — China has vowed to stick with its approach. It says the zero-Covid policy is needed to save lives and prevent its health care system from being swamped, even as much of the world tries to return to normal despite continuing infections.

That increasingly means Covid testing is becoming a feature of daily life: China’s goal is to have testing sites within a 15-minute walk for everyone in large cities.

Daily Life In Shanghai During Lockdown
Shanghai residents complain they have had to line up for hours for the tests.Hugo Hu / Getty Images

Still, many Shanghai residents remain on edge about the possibility of going back under lockdown.

On Thursday, videos shared on social media showed people fleeing the luxury International Finance Centre mall in the city’s Lujiazui financial district after it stopped people from entering or exiting — a common practice at venues when a positive coronavirus test result is found.

The mall, run by Sun Hung Kai Properties, later issued a notice saying that it had reopened at 12:30 p.m. local time after carrying out a full disinfection without confirming whether there had been a positive virus test at the site. The mall did not respond to calls seeking further comment.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper published a commentary on Thursday in which it said that the zero-Covid policy was most appropriate for China’s situation. It also carried a front-page article describing how Shanghai was returning to normal.

“Great, phased results have been achieved in the defense of Shanghai.”