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Beijing ramps up COVID-19 quarantine, Shanghai residents decry uneven rules

Beijing stepped up quarantine efforts to end its month-old COVID outbreak as fresh signs of frustration emerged in Shanghai, where some bemoaned unfair curbs with the city of 25 million preparing to lift a prolonged lockdown in just over a week.

Even as China’s drastic attempts to eradicate COVID entirely – its “zero-COVID” approach – bite into prospects for the world’s second-biggest economy, new reported infection numbers remain well below levels seen in many Western cities.

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The capital reported 48 new cases for Monday among its population of 22 million, with Shanghai reporting fewer than 500.

Still, Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan called for more thorough measures to cut virus transmission and adhere to the nation’s zero-COVID policy during an inspection tour in Beijing, state agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday.

The situation in Beijing was manageable, but containment efforts cannot ease, she said, according to Xinhua.

In one example of the stringency of Beijing’s approach, around 1,800 people in one city neighborhood were relocated to Zhangjiakou city in the nearby Hebei province for quarantine, the state-backed Beijing Daily reported.

Still in place are instructions for residents in six of the capital’s 16 districts to work from home, while a further three districts encouraged people to follow such measures, with each district responsible for implementing its own guidelines.

Beijing had already reduced public transport, requesting some shopping malls and other venues to close and sealing buildings where new cases were detected.

In Shanghai, authorities plan to keep most restrictions in place this month, before a more complete lifting of the two-month-old lockdown from June 1. Even then, public venues will have to cap people flows at 75 percent of capacity.

‘Let’s strike’

With Shanghai officially declared to be a zero-COVID city, some authorities allowed more people to leave their homes for brief periods over the past week, and more supermarkets and pharmacies were authorized to reopen and provide deliveries.

But other lower-level officials separately tightened restrictions in some neighborhoods, ordering residents back indoors to cement progress achieved so far during the city’s final lap towards exiting the lockdown.

That has led to frustration and complaints of uneven treatment among some residents.

While the zero-COVID status describes the entire city, and residents in some compounds have been allowed to move in and out of their homes freely, others have been told they can only go out for a few hours, and many of those stuck indoors were told nothing.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

Videos circulating on social media this week showed residents arguing with officials to be let out of their residential compounds.

The Shanghai government did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

One resident told Reuters people in his compound decided on the WeChat social media platform to go out in groups.

“Let’s strike at our gate tonight to demand that we be allowed to go out like many of other compounds in the neighborhood,” he quoted one of his neighbors as saying in the group chat.

A video he shared then showed a group of people arguing at the entrance of the compound with a man who described himself as a sub-district official, who asked the residents to go back inside and discuss the situation.

“Don’t bother with him,” one person said as some people were socializing outside the compound.

People in at least two other compounds were planning to try going outside despite not being told they were allowed to do so, residents said.

Economic respite?

At a time when most other countries are moving to models of living with the virus, China’s COVID measures are inflicting damage on its economy, as well as disrupting global supply chains.

Many analysts expect the economy to shrink in the second quarter, even if the overall COVID situation across China and economic activity has improved this month when compared with April.

To support the economy, China will broaden tax credit rebates, postpone social security payments by small firms and loan repayments and roll out new investment projects among other steps, state television quoted the cabinet as saying.

In one positive signal for Shanghai, electric vehicle giant Tesla plans to reach on Tuesday production levels similar to those before the lockdown at its plant in the city, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.

Nomura analysts estimate 26 Chinese cities were implementing full or partial lockdowns or other COVID measures as of May 23, accounting for 208 million people and 20.5 percent of China’s economic output. That would be down from 271 million the week before and 27 percent of output.

“But to us, this is merely a respite instead of a turning point,” the analysts wrote in a note. They said passing a turning point would depend exclusively on an exit from the zero-COVID strategy, and not so much on daily case numbers and monthly activity data.

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UAE reports 1,796 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths

The UAE announced 1,796 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the official Emirates News Agency reported.

This brings the current total active cases in the UAE to 17,551 and the total number of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic to 949,384, according to data from the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA).

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The cases were determined out of 232,943 tests in the last 24 hours.

No deaths from the virus were recorded on Saturday, maintaining the total deaths caused by COVID-19 to 2,317 in the UAE.

At least 1,727 patients recovered in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total COVID-19 recoveries to 929,516.

On June 13, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) announced it would strictly enforce its mask rules – with penalties for those flouting the protocol – and announced it would tighten its rules on the Al Hosn green pass system amid rising coronavirus cases across the country.

NCEMA said that it has recently “monitored some behaviors that have become a danger to society and public health,” referring to people not adhering to COVID-19 precautionary and preventative measures and how it has “negatively” impacted recovery efforts.

“Negligence and recklessness in following precautionary measures, and failure in the societal role in maintaining public health and acquired immunity, has resulted in a rise in the number of infections and new waves of the virus,” the authority spokesman said in the briefing.

The authority reaffirmed the need to wear masks in closed public spaces, reiterating that it was mandatory and that not adhering to this rule would result in a fine of up to $816 (AED 3,000).

According to the World Health Organization, more than 4.1 million cases were reported globally in the last week.

It added, however, that the worldwide number of deaths remained relatively similar to the week before, at about 8,500, noting that COVID-related deaths increased in three regions: the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

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Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccines could increase protection as boosters: EMA

Coronavirus vaccines tweaked to include the omicron variant strain can improve protection when used as a booster, the European Medicines Agency and other global health regulators said on Friday.
Following a meeting on Thursday, the EMA said global regulators had agreed on key principles for updating COVID-19 shots to respond to emerging variants.
While the existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalization and death, the group said, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved.
For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.
As such, an omicron-specific or bivalent booster – meaning a vaccine that includes both the new strain and the original coronavirus strain – could “increase and extend” protection, a statement from the EMA said.
The statement refers specifically to the mRNA vaccines. Both Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have been testing retooled versions of their vaccines to include the omicron variant.
Vaccines which include other variants, for example the beta variant, might also be considered for use as boosters if clinical trial data demonstrate an adequate level of neutralization against omicron and other variants of concern, the statement said.
It follows guidance from the World Health Organization that omicron-specific boosters could restore protection against emerging strains of the coronavirus.
But it stops short of the position of the regulator in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which said on Thursday that it would seek the inclusion specifically of the newer BA.4 and BA.5 strains of omicron, currently driving a surge in new infections globally, in any new shots for use domestically.
On Tuesday, the head of a WHO advisory committee that has considered the modified shots said the group preferred BA.1-based boosters, arguing that the variant is more distinct and could generate a broader response than the more recently circulating subvariants.
Top US FDA official Peter Marks said in an interview that regulators from other countries were seriously considering using new boosters based on the BA.1 omicron variant that caused the massive surge in cases last winter, because those shots can be available sooner than the BA.4/5 based booster the United States plans to use.
The EMA said it would provide more details in coming days.
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Russia scraps remaining COVID-19 restrictions

Russia said on Friday it was ending all restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19, including the requirement to wear masks, citing a steady decline in deaths from the virus.
However, it did not rule out re-introducing restrictive measures if the situation deteriorates.
Consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said it was “suspending previously introduced restrictions, including the mask regime, a ban on public catering at night, and a number of other measures.”
For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.
It said the dynamics of the virus were consistent with global trends and 93 percent of confirmed cases were mild or asymptomatic.
Since the start of the pandemic in Russia in April 2020, over 800,000 people have died from coronavirus or causes related to COVID-19, Reuters calculations show, with the country recording over 18 million infections.
Russia was quick to develop and launch its Sputnik V vaccine when the pandemic struck but take-up was slow, with many Russians citing distrust of the authorities and fear of new medical products. About 52 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
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