The huge Chinese city of Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan province, extended its coronavirus lockdown and mass testing program on Sunday, trapping most of its 21 million citizens in their homes. At least 70 cities are now under full or partial lockdown, including the city where the Covid-19 pandemic began, Wuhan.
Chengdu went under lockdown on Thursday, to the surprise and terror of its inhabitants, who were given no time to prepare. On Sunday, city officials announced the lockdown would be extended for most of the city, with the exception of two small districts.
“The city’s Covid situation is severe and complex. The number of new infections remains relatively high and community transmission risk still exists,” a local health official warned.
No timetable for ending the lockdown was given, but officials said mass testing would continue through Wednesday to reach “Covid Zero in the community as soon as possible.” Supposedly only 185 coronavirus cases have been detected in the entire province.
Several major foreign corporations have facilities in Chengdu. Volkswagen and Foxconn said they will keep their factories running under a “closed loop system,” which essentially means quarantining employees at the factory so they can keep working, often requiring them to sleep on the factory floor. Hitachi announced its two Chengdu factories would continue running at “reduced capacity,” while Volvo suspended production at its plant.
The New York Times (NYT) on Monday spoke to Chengdu residents who said “everyone is scared” the city will end up like Shanghai, which was locked down for two months this spring, forcing imprisoned citizens to scramble for food and medicine.
Residents told the NYT food deliveries are running slow or being canceled entirely, and the city’s mass testing system collapsed under stress – a serious problem given that recent negative test results are required for anyone attempting to leave home and obtain supplies.
“Personally, I’m extremely fed up with and not supportive of these policies. But there’s nothing I can do. I can only wait,” sighed a man from another city who was trapped in Chengdu by the lockdown.
Chengdu already resembles the Shanghai horror in several respects, including panicked shoppers scrambling for food and drones flying through deserted streets to broadcast orders like “This community is now in complete lockdown! Stay indoors!”
Drones with loudspeakers and video cameras fly around residential areas in the completely quarantined Chinese city of #Chengdu, reminding locals of the quarantine rules:
— Brijesh Singh (@Brijeshbsingh) September 5, 2022
That is how you destroy societies by just one lockdown…
Chengdu, China, a city of 16+ million people are being locked down, & they’re frantically fighting for food as if they are surviving the apocalypse…
This is a huge sinister social experiment to be repeated globally. pic.twitter.com/dYygsLlVQw
— Zaid Hamid (@ZaidZamanHamid) September 3, 2022
Draconian speech controls have been imposed, as with Shanghai. Chinese social media is buzzing with the story of a Chengdu man who was thrown in jail for warning a lockdown was coming, two days before it was indeed imposed.
Estimates of how many Chinese citizens are currently suffering under coronavirus lockdowns vary. CNN tabulated one of the highest totals in foreign media on Monday, with at least 74 cities and a combined population of 313 million currently living under severe restrictions. 15 of those cities, like Chengdu, are provincial capitals. One of the others is Wuhan, the city where the pandemic began.
CNN noted it was difficult to get an exact count of cases and lockdowns because China’s digital testing system is crashing repeatedly across the country, and the Chinese Communist government is clearly suppressing some of the worst news to emerge from the coronavirus panic:
The city’s digital system used to register Covid tests has crash repeatedly due to the sudden surge in entries, resulting in long lines at testing sites. Photos circulating on social media show health workers raising their arms and holding mobile phones up in the air — in a futile attempt to receive better signals. Neusoft Corporation, the Chinese company providing the software, blamed the crashes on “network malfunction” in a statement released over the weekend.
On Sunday, a Chengdu mother said in a tearful video monologue that she lost her critically ill son after he was forcefully quarantined for a week and missed the crucial time window to treat his heart disease. CNN has been unable to interdependently verify her claims and the government has yet to respond, but the video went viral on social media, sparking widespread anger and sympathy.
Rare street protests have been observed in locked-down cities, including Chengdu, as angry citizens defied quarantine orders to clash with police:
Chengdu and Wuhan, two of China’s largest cities, are both in lock-down… police in Wuhan cracked down hard on protesters who demanded the lock-down to be lifted…
China keeps defending its zero Covid policy ahead of the Communist Party conference in October…
— Wall Street Silver (@WallStreetSilv) September 4, 2022
The economic fallout from the round of lockdowns that included Shanghai was severe, so the current wave of citywide shutdowns will probably deliver an even steeper blow to the wobbling Chinese economy. Among other factors, next weekend is the Mid-Autumn Festival or “Moon Festival,” the second-biggest holiday in China after Lunar New Year.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is traditionally a period of heavy travel, tourism, and shopping, but the lockdowns will almost certainly prevent that, denying a much-needed jolt of commerce to the retail and hospitality sectors.
Foreign analysts fear the new lockdowns will deliver a body blow to the tottering Chinese real estate market.
“Uncertainty over China’s growth prospects and concerns about project incompletion will largely drive weak homebuyer demand over the next 6-12 months. COVID-19 disruptions to business activity and sales execution will also dampen consumer sentiment, while buyers’ expectation of weaker property prices will delay property purchases,” Moody’s analyst Daniel Zhou warned on Monday.