China continues its zero-COVID policies, locking down 21 million Chengdu residents

September 1, 2022, 4:51 PM UTC
CHENGDU, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 01: People line up to buy vegetables in preparation for a COVID-19 lockdown on September 1, 2022 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province of China.
People line up to buy vegetables in preparation for a COVID-19 lockdown on Sept. 1, 2022, in Chengdu, China.
VCG/Getty Images

Even as the rest of the world moves beyond pandemic-era lockdowns, China is continuing with its strict zero-COVID policy.

On Thursday, officials in Chengdu, a city of over 21 million people in Sichuan province, began a lockdown and a four-day citywide testing campaign. The announcement left residents scrambling to buy groceries as officials have yet to reveal how long they expect the lockdown to last.

Families in the city can send only one person out per day for necessities, but residents can leave Chengdu if they’ve had a negative test result within the past 24 hours, officials said.

Chengdu reported 156 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing its total caseload since Aug. 25 to over 700. But despite the rising number of infections, China has reported zero COVID deaths over the past three months, with the death toll throughout the entire pandemic remaining at 5,226.

“The decision will impact daily life for millions as well as the global economy and shows China’s commitment to Xi Jinping’s #CovidZero approach despite massive disruptions,” Curtis S. Chin, a Milken Institute fellow and former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, said of the lockdowns in a tweet on Thursday.

Chengdu is a critical hub for electronics and auto manufacturers in China. Foxconn, Apple’s largest iPhone manufacturer, is moving to a closed-loop system at its factories in the region that requires its workers to live on-site, hoping to maintain production during the lockdown as it did earlier in the year in Shenzhen, Bloomberg reported.

Volvo has temporarily closed its factory in Chengdu, according to a company spokesman.

Other major cities including electronics hub Shenzhen and the port of Dalian have also added new COVID-19 restrictions recently.

“At least 28 cities tightened COVID restrictions this week in China, including lockdowns, affecting 40 million people. China’s economy is slipping toward contraction,” Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist at financial services firm StoneX Group, said in a tweet on Thursday.

The latest COVID-19 restrictions follow a string of lockdowns seen in major cities this spring, including Shanghai and Shenzhen, which had devastating impacts on Chinese supply chains and industry.

For Sichuan province, the lockdowns are only adding to the pain from a record heat wave that exacerbated an ongoing drought in August, leading to citywide power cuts. Businesses in Sichuan, from lithium producers to electrical component manufacturers, have struggled as a result of the power cuts that even forced officials in Shanghai to cut the lights to the city’s skyline.

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