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Shanghai to ease lockdown in some areas despite record COVID-19 infections

China’s financial center of Shanghai will start easing lockdown in some areas from Monday, despite reporting a record of more than 25,000 new COVID-19 infections, as authorities strive to get the city moving again after more than two weeks.

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Pressure has been mounting on authorities in China’s most populous city, and one of its wealthiest, from residents growing increasingly frustrated as curbs drag on, leaving some struggling to find enough food and medicine.

Shanghai is grouping residential units into three risk categories as a step towards allowing “appropriate activity” by those in neighborhoods with no positive cases during a two-week stretch, city official Gu Honghui said.

“Each district will announce the specific names of the first batch (of communities) divided into the three types, and three subsequent lists will be announced in a timely manner,” Gu told a news briefing.

While it was not clear how many of the city’s 25 million residents stand to have lockdowns immediately eased, the step promises some relief for many cooped up for more than three weeks in the battle against China’s biggest outbreak since coronavirus was first found in central Wuhan in late 2019.

One video, widely shared online, showed occupants of a row of apartment blocks screaming and shouting from windows.

Gu said Shanghai was divided into 7,624 areas that are still sealed off, with a group of 2,460 now subject to “controls” after a week of no new infections, and 7,565 “prevention areas” to be opened up after two weeks without a positive case.

Those in “prevention areas” who move around their neighborhoods must observe social distancing and could be sealed off again if there are new infections, Gu added.

One of the first districts to release its list was the industrial area of Jinshan on Shanghai’s southwestern edge, which posted the names of residential sites still in high- and medium-risk categories.

No choice

Some social media users criticized the easing move as a big risk at a time of a record new daily caseload, but others said Shanghai had no choice.

“I think this is the Shanghai government admitting it cannot continue locking down while ensuring that its citizens don’t starve to death,” said a Weibo user, posting under the name Ruan Yi.

Complaints about controls continue, with some in the city’s Xuhui district telling Reuters that neighborhood committees had put locks and bicycle chains on their front doors from late Sunday to confine them to their homes.

China’s zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19, prescribing central quarantine for anyone testing positive even in the absence of symptoms, is increasingly strained by the highly infectious, though less deadly, Omicron variant.

The policy has halted nearly all international travel, and is taking a growing economic toll as cities impose curbs, with southern Guangzhou and eastern Ningbo the latest to do so, even as other countries try to live with the disease.

On Monday, the European Chamber of Commerce in China said it sent a letter to Beijing’s State Council, or cabinet, describing the challenges for firms from recent COVID prevention measures.

Still, the “dynamic clearance” policy remained Shanghai’s “best option”, said national official Liang Wannian.

It was misleading to view Omicron as “big flu”, and lowering China’s guard would expose its huge elderly population to risk, especially as the virus mutates, said Liang, who heads a National Health Commission panel on COVID-19.

“If we lie flat, the epidemic would just be a disaster for these kinds of vulnerable people,” the People’s Daily newspaper of the ruling Communist Party quoted Liang, as saying, making use of a popular term for doing the minimum.

Shanghai added 25,173 new asymptomatic infections on Sunday, up from 23,937 the previous day, although symptomatic cases edged down to 914 from 1,006.

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WHO: Over 4.1 million new COVID-19 cases reported globally, 18 pct increase 

The number of new coronavirus cases rose by 18 percent in the last week, with more than 4.1 million cases reported globally, according to the World Health Organization.

The UN health agency said in its latest weekly report on the pandemic that the worldwide number of deaths remained relatively similar to the week before, at about 8,500. COVID-related deaths increased in three regions: the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

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The biggest weekly rise in new COVID-19 cases was seen in the Middle East, where they increased by 47 percent, according to the report released late Wednesday. Infections rose by about 32 percent in Europe and Southeast Asia, and by about 14 percent in the Americas, WHO said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said cases were on the rise in 110 countries, mostly driven by the omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

“This pandemic is changing, but it’s not over,” Tedros said this week during a press briefing.

He said the ability to track COVID-19’s genetic evolution was “under threat” as countries relaxed surveillance and genetic sequencing efforts, warning that would make it more difficult to catch emerging and potentially dangerous new variants.

He called for countries to immunize their most vulnerable populations, including health workers and people over 60, saying that hundreds of millions remain unvaccinated and at risk of severe disease and death.

Tedros said that while more than 1.2 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered globally, the average immunization rate in poor countries is about 13 percent.

“If rich countries are vaccinating children from as young as 6 months old and planning to do further rounds of vaccination, it is incomprehensible to suggest that lower-income countries should not vaccinate and boost their most at risk (people),” he said.

According to figures compiled by Oxfam and the People's Vaccine Alliance, fewer than half of the 2.1 billion vaccines promised to poorer countries by the Group of Seven large economies have been delivered.

Earlier this month, the United States authorized COVID-19 vaccines for infants and preschoolers, rolling out a national immunization plan targeting 18 million of the youngest children. American regulators also recommended that some adults get updated boosters in the fall that match the latest coronavirus variants.

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France’s new wave of COVID-19 infections expected to peak end of July

A new wave in France of COVID-19 infections fueled by emerging variants of the disease should peak toward end-July, the French government’s top scientific adviser Jean-Francois Delfraissy said on Thursday.
“The peak is not yet here, this peak of infections will probably be for end-July,” Delfraissy told RTL radio.
“Then the BA.5 variant will reappear, if it is not overtaken by another variant… in autumn,” he added.
For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.
France reported new 124,724 coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, against 77,967 a week ago.
The French government also recommended this week that people should start wearing face masks again in crowded areas, especially in public transport, to counter the latest surge in COVID-19 cases.
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Shanghai Disneyland theme park re-opens after three-month COVID-19 closure 

More than a thousand visitors streamed in on Thursday as Walt Disney Co’s Shanghai Disney Resort theme park opened after a closure of three months, with face masks and social distancing the order of the day.
The park shut on March 21 as cases rose in the Chinese business hub, leading to a two-month-long citywide lockdown that eased on June 1. Just over a week later, the resort began opening some areas, with the theme park the last to re-open.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

Among the first of Thursday's visitors was Zhang Yudong, a 19-year-old student wearing a Mickey Mouse wizard hat and T-shirt donned for the occasion.
“It really feels like coming back home. I was so excited,” said Zhang, who holds a Disneyland annual pass. “I had been looking forward to the day. One question I would ask everyday is, ‘When will it reopen?’”
Before its March closure, the park had enforced COVID-19 measures required by the authorities, such as face masks and regular disinfection.
After the re-opening, it requires guests to show proof of a negative COVID test taken within the last 72 hours, in line with rules for public areas in Shanghai and other cities.
The park has also said it will limit capacity, but gave no details, adding that some attractions, such as Marvel Universe, will stay closed.
Shanghai Disneyland is a joint venture with Chinese state-owned Shendi Group, which holds a 57 percent stake.

Read more: China’s Xi warns against ‘herd immunity,’ says COVID-Zero policy works best

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