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Shanghai vows to improve food deliveries as discontent grows over COVID curbs

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By Reuters

SHANGHAI -The Shanghai government said on Thursday it was trying its best to improve the distribution of food and essential goods to locked-in residents, responding to growing public discontent as COVID curbs stretched into an 11th day.

China’s financial hub has fallen largely silent after the city imposed harsh movement restrictions to stem the spread of COVID, with only healthcare workers, volunteers, delivery personnel or people with special permission allowed on the streets.

Authorities say that has whittled the number of couriers, who must keep the city’s 26 million residents supplied, to just 11,000. Still operating but overloaded services include Meituan and Alibaba’s Freshippo online grocery platform and its Ele.me service.

Lockdowns for the city’s residents eastern of the Huangpu river began on March 28, while lockdowns for the rest of the city started on April 1. The exercise originally was intended to last five days at most.

The Shanghai branch of China’s Communist Party called on members to “dare show their swords and fight against all kind of behaviour that interferes with and destroys the overall efforts against the pandemic” in an open letter on Wednesday night.

Shanghai has sufficient reserves of staples such as rice and meat, but issues have cropped up in distribution and last-mile deliveries because of epidemic control measures, Shanghai’s vice mayor Chen Tong said at a news conference on Thursday.

He said the city would try to reopen some wholesale markets and food stores and allow more delivery personnel out of locked-down areas. Officials will also crack down on price gouging, he added.

“In response to the various problems reported by the public, we have been holding meetings overnight to try and figure out solutions,” he said.

Many residents are beginning to worry about food and drinking water, as well as obtaining products such as infant formula.

Some have complained on social media about having to wake up at dawn for a chance at booking a grocery delivery, but finding them sold out within seconds. Others have turned to community WeChat groups to try to bulk-buy fruit and vegetables.

Social media users have also widely shared outrage over individual tragedies, including the alleged suicide of woman after being cyberbullied for paying too little to a delivery worker, and a healthcare worker beating to death a corgi after its owner allegedly was taken to quarantine.

In response, the China News Service posted a reminder on the Twitter-like Weibo from two animal experts that there is no evidence of pets transmitting COVID back to humans on Thursday, and called for more humane treatment for pets.

Shanghai, which has been conducting multiple rounds of testing, reported close to 20,000 new locally transmitted cases for Wednesday, 98% of which it said where asymptomatic.

However, there are signs that transmission is still happening in spite of the lockdowns. Of its 19,660 asymptomatic infections, 633 involved people who were not under quarantine or who faced control measures, the data showed.

Shanghai denied rumours on Wednesday that it planned to suspend all delivery services amid concerns that the virus was being spread through such workers. It requires them to take PCR and antigen tests every day, and they can only deliver goods if they test negative.

China’s most-populous city has yet to give an indication of when lockdown measures will be lifted, fuelling uncertainty and prompting European businesses and economists to warn about the mounting toll they are having on its economy and attractiveness as an international financial hub.

The economic impact is not confined to Shanghai, however, with 87 out of China’s top 100 cities imposing some level of restrictions on activity and mobility “in hopes of keeping COVID under control and avoiding Shanghai’s fate,” Gavekal Dragonomics analyst Ernan Cui said in a note on Thursday.

On Thursday a commentary in the People’s Daily said that “some emotions and complaints are understandable” given the huge impact of pandemic controls, but people’s lives and health must be put first.

From Monday Shanghai will reduce cap loads on international flights by foreign airlines at 40%, down from 75% previously in a bid to reduce imported cases, two sources told Reuters on Thursday.

The city is a hub for the very few international flights still coming into China.

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Although Shanghai’s case numbers remain small by global standards, the city has emerged as a test bed for China’s “dynamic clearance” anti-COVID strategy, which seeks to test, trace and centrally quarantine all positive cases and their close contacts.

On Thursday, Shanghai city officials said they would continue to conduct more testing among its residents who will be asked to take PCR or self-administered antigen tests.

Shanghai has converted dozens of buildings into quarantine facilities that can house tens of thousands of positive cases.

On Tuesday, construction began on a new facility that can house 40,000 beds will be finished by Friday, local media The Paper said on Thursday.

Late on Wednesday, the China News Service said the neighbouring provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang will also provide 60,000 more rooms which can accommodate quarantine patients from Shanghai.