China has introduced lockdown measures in its two biggest cities, Beijing and Shanghai – the twin engines that power much of the nation’s economy – in an uncompromising bid to stamp out Covid-19 outbreaks.
Shanghai is at the center of the latest outbreak, reporting upwards of 15,000 new cases a day. Authorities have responded with a city-wide lockdown that has lasted weeks, confining nearly all 25 million residents of the once-bustling financial hub to their homes or neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, Beijing officials have launched mass testing exercises, shut schools and imposed targeted lockdowns on some residential buildings in a bid to rein in infections. Those actions have sparked fears of a wider lockdown similar to Shanghai’s.
Throughout the pandemic, China has stuck to a strict zero-Covid strategy that uses lockdowns, mass testing, quarantines, and border closures to contain the virus. But the arrival of the highly infectious Omicron variant has thrown the sustainability of that strategy into question, with the virus spreading to different cities and provinces faster than the government can contain it.
Authorities are now enforcing full or partial lockdowns in at least 27 cities across the country, with these restrictions affecting up to 180 million people, according to CNN’s calculations.
Here’s what you need to know about the Covid situation in China.
Where are the lockdowns and restrictions?
Cases in China began rising in March, soon spiraling into the worst flare-up the country has seen since the initial outbreak in Wuhan in early 2020.
Northeastern Jilin province was hit hard during the early stages of the outbreak. Authorities put the provincial capital Changchun, an industrial hub, under strict city-wide lockdown on March 11, with nearby Jilin City following suit on March 21.
On Thursday, authorities in Changchun and Jilin City, which have a combined population of more than 13.5 million residents, said they would soon begin to gradually ease lockdowns – though it remains unclear what that process will look like, or under what conditions people will be permitted to leave their homes.
Authorities also locked down several other cities, including the major economic center of Shenzhen, in March – though some of these measures have since been lifted.
Shanghai, which has recorded more than half a million cases since March 1, introduced a staggered lockdown in late March. This had expanded into a full citywide lockdown by the end of the month.
Some neighborhoods can start to ease lockdown measures if they have reported no cases in the past two weeks, Shanghai authorities said on Wednesday – but it’s a tenuous freedom, with the threat of reimposed lockdown if even one local case is detected.
In Beijing, a mass testing campaign has covered nearly 20 million residents – about 90% of the city’s population. Another round of citywide testing is underway from April 27 to 30.