Chinese city locks down, Shanghai shuts schools as Covid spikes

A Chinese city of nine million was ordered into lockdown on Friday and Shanghai shut its schools as authorities scrambled to halt a Covid-19 outbreak that has pushed nationwide cases to their highest levels in two years.

Changchun, the capital of northeastern Jilin province and an important industrial base, ordered residents to stay at home, allowing one person out every two days to buy “daily necessities”.

The city also halted all public transport, ordered schools and businesses shut and said it would institute mass testing.

China’s daily coronavirus case count soared past the 1,000 mark this week for the first time since the pandemic’s early days in 2020.

That is up from fewer than 100 cases just three weeks ago as the highly transmissible Omicron variant challenges China’s zero-Covid approach to tackling the pandemic.

Covid-19 was first detected in China in late 2019 but the government has kept its case count extremely low by international standards with a combination of snap lockdowns, mass testing and largely closed borders.

There were 1,369 cases across more than a dozen provinces, according to Friday’s daily official count.

Jilin, which has reported hundreds of cases in recent days, is one of more than a dozen provinces facing upticks along with major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Shanghai on Friday ordered its schools to close and shift to online instruction for the foreseeable future after dozens of cases emerged in the eastern economic hub in recent days.

And as cases increased, the country’s National Health Commission announced Friday that they would introduce the use of rapid antigen tests.

The kits will now be available online or at pharmacies for clinics and ordinary citizens to buy for “self-test”, the health commission said, although nucleic acid tests will continue to be the main method of testing.