China calls in military to help test 25 million in locked-down Shanghai

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April 4 (UPI) — China mobilized the military and tens of thousands of health workers to test 25 million residents in Shanghai, officials announced Monday, as the global financial hub extended a lockdown in the country’s greatest COVID-19 response since 2020.

Shanghai recorded 9,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, China’s National Health Commission reported — a record high driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

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Officials have maintained a zero-COVID strategy, implementing widespread lockdowns and mass testing to keep cases to a minimum, but the latest outbreak is testing the limits of that approach.

Shanghai began a staggered lockdown on March 28 to conduct widespread testing, which was supposed to end for half the city last Friday. However, officials announced that a citywide lockdown would remain in place indefinitely pending the results of Monday’s nucleic acid testing, local media reported.

A shopper is seen in a half-empty grocery store in Shanghai, China, on March 25. Shanghai’s lockdown has sparked waves of panic buying, growing discontent and public outrage over social media images showing crowded wards for children who were separated from parents. Photo by Alex Plavevski/EPA-EFE

More than 38,000 Chinese healthcare workers arrived in Shanghai to help with testing and makeshift hospitals, state-run Xinhua reported. It’s the largest mobilization the country has seen since early 2020.

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China’s military sent around 2,000 medical personnel, an official news outlet of the People’s Liberation Army reported.

Hospitals also have struggled to keep up with the surge in cases as the lockdown has sparked waves of panic buying, growing discontent and public outrage over social media images showing crowded wards for children with COVID-19 who were separated from parents.

Despite the lockdown’s economic toll in one of China’s most important financial, manufacturing and shipping hubs, Chinese officials have publicly remained committed to the zero-COVID approach.

On Saturday, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan visited Shanghai and called on the city to swiftly curb the outbreak, declaring that China would “adhere to the dynamic zero-COVID policy without wavering.”