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Shanghai boosts COVID-19 testing

THE STAR – China’s financial capital is bolstering its COVID-19 testing capacity as cases reappear in the community and residents start to move around more freely after the easing of most lockdown curbs.

Shanghai reported 16 new COVID infections for Thursday, seven of them outside government mandated quarantine – the highest tally of so-called community cases since officials started to loosen restrictions last month after declaring an end to community spread.

The city will add more PCR testing booths, increase staff at the busiest sites and extend service times to meet residents’ needs. Residents still need a recent negative test result to access public transport, enter shopping malls or go to the office.

The return of community spread raises the specter of a renewed crackdown, with China still devoted to its Zero COVID policy of keeping the virus out.

New infections rose to 74 across China on Thursday, from 61 on Wednesday. Still, it’s a marked turnaround from the tens of thousands of cases reported daily in the first half of April, when Shanghai’s outbreak appeared to be spiralling out of control, triggering a city-wide lockdown that disrupted business and upended people’s lives.

Residents walk along a blocked street in a residential area under a Covid-19 lockdown in the Jing’an district of Shanghai. PHOTO: AFP

The dramatic drop in nationwide infections from a peak of almost 30,000 in mid-April will be seen as justification President Xi Jinping is charting the right course.

China has trumpeted what it sees as its triumph over the pathogen, with its zealous approach leading to one of the lowest death tolls in the world, especially compared to the United States (US) with over one million fatalities.

As part of that bid to reduce the impact of Zero COVID, China is building the infrastructure to make testing for the virus routine. A network of tens of thousands of testing booths is being set up across the nation’s largest and most economically vital cities, with the goal of having residents always just a 15-minute walk away from a swabbing point.

The pivot will allow cities like Beijing, Shanghai and tech hub Shenzhen to require tests as often as every 48 hours, with negative results needed to get on the subway, go to a tourist attraction, or enter a store.

By consistently testing its population, China will be able to find cases as soon as they emerge, potentially avoiding the need for economically crippling lockdowns and other more drastic curbs.