The Chinese metropolis of Chongqing has rolled out mass Covid testing in its central area amid a record heat wave, leaving millions of residents standing under the sun for hours as they struggle with extreme temperatures and power shortages.
Stringent zero-Covid measures enacted by the southwestern mega city to contain an emerging outbreak are the latest hardship for residents already reeling from a crippling heat wave, a severe drought and blazing wildfires.
Chongqing reported 40 Covid-19 infections Wednesday, bringing the total to 146 cases since mid-August.
Authorities ordered more than 10 million people in the city’s central urban districts to undergo mandatory Covid tests on Wednesday, when the highest temperature in Chongqing soared past 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
More than 3,800 temporary testing sites were set up across the central districts. Photos on Chinese social media show residents forming long lines at the sites, with some passing out in the intense heat.
One widely circulated video shows a street packed with hundreds of people apparently waiting in line for Covid tests, most wearing face masks and some fanning themselves to relieve the heat. In the background, plumes of smoke from wildfires rise above the pale-orange skyline.
“It’s 43 degrees, the people of Chongqing are already stretched to the limit,” a resident said on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.
To ensure residents in the central districts comply with the testing mandate, authorities turned the health codes on everyone’s mobile phones to orange. The codes will turn green only after they complete the Covid tests.
A green code is a prerequisite for going about daily life in China, where freedom of movement is dictated by a color-code system imposed by the government to control the spread of the virus.
Residents who have not been tested will not be allowed to attend gatherings, meetings or business activities, nor can they enter crowded, enclosed public spaces, according to authorities.
Chongqing resident Zeng Meng, 42, said a message on his health code app told him to take a Covid test around midnight on Wednesday.
“Forcing more than 10 million people to do Covid tests in such high temperatures is deplorable,” he said. “This is neither scientific, reasonable, nor legal.”
Zeng said people started lining up for tests at his residential compound in the small hours of Wednesday, but he refused to take one. On Thursday, he was barred from entering a supermarket because of an orange code on his health app, he said.
“Excessive anti-Covid measures have caused us great inconvenience. Many of my friends resent being forced to do Covid tests,” he said.