China in COVID-19 Panic Orders Massive Lockdowns

Shanghai, a city of nearly 26 million and China’s financial hub, is in the first part of a two-stage lockdown as officials race to contain a COVID-19 surge. The action wasn’t announced until late Sunday and sent shoppers in the metropolis scrambling for food and other supplies.

In chaotic scenes all too familiar for most of the world, panic buying stripped store shelves bare of food and other necessities. Queues stretch outside of shop doors as shoppers try to get ahead of pending restrictions in the western half. Delivery services are reportedly overwhelmed by demand.

The government closed bridges and tunnels and restricted highway traffic as the eastern half of the city, including the financial sector, was put on lockdown. Medical workers in hazmat suits began conducting staggered testing, which is expected to take at least nine days for the entire city.

When the eastern half is complete, those in the western half face the same situation. All of this in a city that until a few days ago was considered too large and too important for the Chinese economy to endure a shutdown.

China’s version of Wall Street is Shanghai’s Lujiazui district, and bankers, traders, and other key personnel are hunkered down in their offices attempting to keep the financial hub humming. Firms raced to get workers into offices and stock them with sleeping bags and supplies to avoid massive interruptions of trade.

And it’s not only the financial sector that the lifeblood of the nation flows through. Shanghai is also home to the largest container-shipping port in the world.

The city government reported a record 4,381 new asymptomatic COVID-19 cases and 96 with symptoms on Monday. With the increasing cases and Shanghai lockdown, oil and other global markets slid Monday as investors fear disruptions in demand from the world’s largest energy importer.

There is also a 21-day curfew in place for all foreigners arriving in China from abroad, resulting in a dramatic fall in international travel.

China, where medical experts now agree the coronavirus pandemic originated, largely avoided the height of global economic and societal shock with its “zero-COVID policy.” And while its strategy of rapid and targeted lockdowns and quarantines proved successful early on, it remains to be seen if this approach will stop the newer and more transmissible variants from spreading through its over 1.4 billion residents.