BEIJING (AP) – The U.S. has ordered non-emergency government workers to leave Shanghai, which is under strict lockdown to stem a COVID-19 surge.
Many residents of the city of 26 million are confined to their homes for up to three weeks as China sticks to its “zero-COVID” strategy of treating outbreaks with strict isolation and mass testing.
But people living under the restrictions have described an increasingly desperate situation where families are unable to leave their homes or get groceries and daily necessities, while people who have tested positive for the coronavirus have been forced into mass quarantine centers where the conditions were at times described as overcrowded and unsanitary.
The State Department said the order announced late Monday was an upgrade of last week’s “authorized” departure advice, which made the decision voluntarily. The order affects non-distressed US government employees at the consulate in Shanghai and their family members. The consular officers remain on duty at the consulate.
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“Our change in attitude reflects our assessment that as we deal with the changing circumstances on the ground, it is best for our employees and their families to reduce their numbers and scale back our activities,” the announcement said.
The State Department also issued a range of advice for Americans in Shanghai, including making sure they have an “adequate supply of money, medicine, food and other necessities for your family” in the event of sudden restrictions or quarantine.
China’s government and the fully state-controlled media have responded increasingly defensively to complaints about COVID-19 preventive measures.
Beijing reacted angrily to last week’s voluntary departure warning, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian saying China was “deeply dissatisfied with and strongly opposed to the US side’s baseless allegation of China’s response to the epidemic.”
In that announcement, the State Department advised Americans to reconsider travel to China due to “arbitrary enforcement” of local laws and COVID-19 restrictions, particularly in Hong Kong, Jilin province and Shanghai. US officials cited the risk of “separating parents and children.”
Despite this, and signs that the hard-line policy will be dictated by ruling Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, China has rejected any notion that its response is political in nature. Xi has primarily called for social stability ahead of a key party convention later this year, at which he is expected to land an unprecedented third term as party leader.
Shanghai authorities also say they have secured residents’ daily supplies after complaints surfaced about deliveries of groceries and other necessities that were unavailable or under-demanded.
Shanghai says it will gradually lift some restrictions on neighborhoods that have not reported any new infections in the past two weeks. Residents can travel around their districts, but cannot meet in groups. Others are confined to their immediate neighborhood.
This story makes it clear that only non-emergency consulate staff are leaving.
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