China sends military, doctors to Shanghai to test 26 million residents for Covid

SHANGHAI — China has sent the military and thousands of healthcare workers to Shanghai to help conduct Covid-19 tests for all of its 26 million people as cases surged Monday in one of the country’s biggest lockdown measures public health continued to increase.

Some residents woke before dawn so healthcare workers in white suits could swab their throats as part of nucleic acid testing at their residences. Many lined up in their pajamas and stood the required two meters apart.

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The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deployed more than 2,000 medical personnel from the army, navy and joint logistical support forces to Shanghai on Sunday, an armed forces newspaper reported.

More than 10,000 healthcare workers from across the country have arrived in Shanghai, according to state media reports that showed them arriving with suitcases and masks by bullet train and plane.

It is China’s largest public health response since fighting the initial Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus was first detected in late 2019. The State Council said the PLA dispatched more than 4,000 medical personnel to Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, at the time.

Shanghai, which began a two-stage lockdown on March 28 that has expanded to confine virtually all residents in their homes, reported 8,581 asymptomatic Covid-19 cases and 425 symptomatic cases as of April 3. Residents were also asked to test themselves on Sunday.

Although the outbreak is small by global standards, the city has emerged as a test for China’s elimination strategy, based on testing, tracing and quarantining all positive cases and their close contacts.

The exercise in China’s most populous city is taking place the night before Shanghai originally said it planned to lift the city’s lockdown.

The country has 12,400 facilities capable of processing tests of up to 900 million people a day, a senior Chinese health official said last month.

China mainly uses pool testing, a process that mixes up to 20 swab samples together for faster processing.

Image: Outbreak of COVID-19 in Shanghai
Residents queue for nucleic acid tests in Shanghai on Monday. Aly Song / Reuters

The surge in government support for Shanghai comes as the city suffers from the demands of the country’s “dynamic evacuation” strategy, with residents complaining of overcrowded and unsanitary central quarantine centers and difficulties in obtaining food and basic medical assistance.

Some have begun to question the guidelines, asking why Covid-positive children are being separated from their parents and why mild or asymptomatic infections – most cases in Shanghai – cannot isolate at home.

On Monday, Shanghai official Wu Qianyu told a news conference that children could be accompanied by their parents if the parents were also infected, but separated if not, adding that the guidelines were still being refined .

Pressure has also been on the city’s healthcare workers and Communist Party members as they work around the clock to navigate the city’s lockdown and deal with residents’ frustration.

Photos and videos of exhausted workers and volunteers sleeping on plastic chairs or on the lawn outside condominiums, or being verbally abused by local residents, have gone viral on Chinese social media.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged the country to contain the momentum of the outbreak as soon as possible while sticking to the “dynamic release” policy. On Saturday, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who was dispatched to Shanghai by the central government, urged the city to take “firm and swift steps” to contain the pandemic. China sends military, doctors to Shanghai to test 26 million residents for Covid

Caroline Bleakley

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