Shanghai asks residents to stay home for Christmas as China’s COVID surges

SHANGHAI, Dec 24 (Reuters) – Authorities in Shanghai urged residents to stay at home this weekend after strict restrictions were lifted as COVID-19 raged across the country, seeking a milder climate in the country’s most populous city. Christmas.

The Shanghai Municipal Health Commission on Saturday urged young people in particular to avoid crowded gatherings due to the ease with which the coronavirus spreads and cooler temperatures.

Christmas is not traditionally celebrated in China, but it is common for young couples to spend the holiday with some families.

The surge in the Omicron variant came weeks after authorities abruptly ended its zero-COVID policy, lifting strict testing requirements and travel restrictions, as China became the last major country to contract the virus.

While many welcomed the easing, households and health systems were unprepared for the resulting surge in infections. Hospitals scramble for beds and blood, pharmacies scramble for medicines, and authorities scramble to build clinics.

Shanghai typically hosts large Christmas-themed markets in luxury shopping districts along West Nanjing Road, with restaurants and retailers offering promotions to drum up business.

But the spread of Omicron is dampening celebrations.

Jacqueline Mocatta, who works in the hotel industry, said many Shanghai restaurants had canceled their Christmas parties, which are usually for regulars, while hotels were limiting bookings due to staff shortages.

“Given our manpower, we can only accept a limited number of clients and most team members are currently unwell,” she said.

Doubts about official figures

People lamented on social media that they would stay indoors because most of their friends tested positive for COVID.

“I originally planned to go to Shanghai for Christmas, but now I can only lie in bed,” wrote one netizen on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social network.

UK-based health data company Airfinity said this week that China could be seeing more than 1 million daily infections and more than 5,000 daily deaths, in “stark contrast” to official figures.

China’s national health authorities reported 4,128 daily symptomatic COVID-19 infections on Saturday, with no deaths for the fourth day in a row.

Nearly 37 million people may have contracted COVID in a single day in the past week, according to estimates from the government’s top health department, Bloomberg reported Friday.

A local media outlet said on Saturday that the emergency helpline in Taiyuan, Shanxi province received more than 4,000 calls a day.

Authorities in Taiyuan urged residents to call the number only for medical emergencies, saying guidance on COVID “is not within the scope of the hotline.”

A health official in Qingdao said the port city was seeing around 500,000 daily infections, media reported on Friday.

In Wuhan, the epicenter of COVID three years ago, media reported on Friday that local blood banks had only 4,000 units, enough to last two days. The repository is calling on people to “roll up your sleeves and donate blood”.

Reporting by Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Editing by William Mallard

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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