Millions of people in Shanghai have been tested for Covid-19, as residents wait nervously to see if the city will be forced into lockdown once more following the emergence of a new highly-infectious variant of the virus.
The new BA.5 variant of the virus is more transmissible and is spreading rapidly around the planet. Authorities ordered mandatory testing for the majority of Shanghai residents after a case of the BA.5.2.1 subvariant was identified in the community on July 8th.
Other Omicron subvariants have also recently been reported in a number of Chinese cities, including the capital Beijing.
China is still sticking firmly to its “Zero Covid” strategy, flying in the face of all other major countries which have made the decision to accept a certain level of infection amongst their populations. The new variant represents the greatest challenge to the strategy to date, with B.5 believed to be 50% more contagious than the previously-dominant B.2 variant.
Shanghai ended its citywide lockdown at the start of June, but following the discovery of the new variant is facing an untimely return to restrictions. More than 240 neighborhoods in the city of 25 million people have already been put under lockdown as a precautionary measure, and should the mass testing show any spread of B.5 in the community it is likely that the entire city will be shut down once more.
The looming threat of a new lockdown comes as the country is experiencing a heatwave likely to make the experience all the more unbearable. The stifling heat also impacted the city’s testing efforts, with photos on social media showing workers in hazmat suits using ice blocks to keep cool and multiple reports of both workers and residents waiting to be tested suffering health problems due to the heat.
It is unclear at present when authorities will announce the results from the tests and any subsequent measures.