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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

US allows diplomats to leave Shanghai

Health workers at a checkpoint on Friday in Shanghai during a citywide COVID-19 lockdown that began April 1.

By Keith Bradsher

The State Department announced late last week evening that it was allowing nonemergency U.S. government employees in Shanghai and all family members of government employees to leave the city because of the coronavirus outbreak there and the stringent lockdown that it has triggered.

Many residents of all nationalities in Shanghai have struggled to arrange for food deliveries to their homes during the lockdown. Children, including toddlers and infants, have sometimes been taken from their parents to be quarantined separately, although the Shanghai government is now starting to offer family quarantines for children with special needs.

Local and national health authorities continue to insist that anyone infected must be taken from their homes and quarantined, as part of China’s “COVID zero” policy. All close contacts of the infected are also taken away and isolated. The city reported an additional 23,624 coronavirus cases Saturday morning that had been detected Friday. The outbreak, fueled by omicron variants, has turned into one of the most serious challenges during the nearly decadelong tenure of Xi Jinping, China’s top leader.

The city has arranged tens of thousands of cots in two convention centers as quarantine centers. The convention centers were designed for people to visit for only a few hours at a time and lack showers. People facing long confinements in these locations, with sometimes limited medical care, must try to wash themselves at sinks and basins.

Western health experts have warned of a risk of cross-infection for those in confinement.

All of Shanghai has been locked down since April 1. The eastern third of the city has been locked down even longer — since March 28.

The State Department’s voluntary departure policy covers all U.S. nonemergency government employees in Shanghai, a category that includes many Chinese nationals as well as U.S. diplomats. The U.S. Consulate in Shanghai had no immediate details on how the departure would be administered.

Almost all international flights to and from Shanghai have been halted. Many roads to the city’s two airports have also been closed. Other cities in China, notably Beijing, have been reluctant to accept travelers from Shanghai and have been requiring them to spend as long as two weeks in isolation if they do come.

Shanghai performed PCR tests on 25.67 million people Monday — essentially everyone in the city. But it has struggled to analyze so many test results and has not allowed residents even to go to grocery stores in the meantime. The national government has sent in 2,000 military medics and 10,000 medical workers from other provinces to help.

China has been leery of abandoning its “COVID zero” policy. As of March 17, only 19% of Chinese citizens 80 or older had received three vaccine shots. Research at Hong Kong University has indicated that three shots, including a booster, are needed of the inactivated vaccines developed in China in order to achieve strong immunity.

China has been discussing for two years whether to import mRNA vaccines but has not yet done so.

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