Shanghai asks residents to stay for Christmas as China COVID surges

SHANGHAI, Dec 24 (Reuters) – Shanghai authorities urged residents to stay home this weekend, wishing for a toned-down Christmas in the country’s most populous city as COVID-19 rages across the country after hard curbs ​were lifted.

A branch of the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission on Saturday urged young people in particular to avoid crowded gatherings due to the easy spread of the coronavirus and low temperatures.

Christmas is not traditionally celebrated in China, but it is common for young couples and some families to spend the holidays together.

The Omicron variant is booming weeks after authorities abruptly ended their zero-COVID policy and lifted strict testing requirements and travel restrictions as China became the last major country to turn to life with the virus.

While many have welcomed the easing, families and the healthcare system have not been prepared for the resulting wave of infections. Hospitals are scrambling for beds and blood, pharmacies for drugs, and government agencies scrambling to build clinics.

Shanghai usually hosts a large Christmas market in a luxury shopping district along Nanjing West Road, and restaurants and retailers offer promotions to boost business.

But the proliferation of Omicron is dampening the celebrations.

Many restaurants in Shanghai have canceled Christmas parties, which are usually held for regulars, while hotels have limited reservations due to staff shortages, said Jacqueline Mocatta, who works in hospitality.

“There is only a certain number of clients that we can accept given our manpower, with the majority of team members being ill at the moment,” she said.

SKEPTICS AGAINST OFFICIAL DATA

People lamented on social media that they will be staying indoors as most of their friends have tested positive for COVID.

“Originally I was planning to go to Shanghai for Christmas but now all I can do is lie in bed,” one person wrote on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social network.

Infections in China are likely to be more than a million a day, with deaths at more than 5,000 a day, in “strong contrast” to official data, UK-based health data company Airfinity said this week.

China’s national health authority on Saturday reported 4,128 daily symptomatic COVID-19 infections and no deaths for the fourth straight day.

Bloomberg News reported on Friday that nearly 37 million people may have been infected with COVID in a single day over the past week, citing estimates by the government’s top health agency.

The emergency number in Taiyuan, in northern Shanxi province, received over 4,000 calls a day, a local media outlet said on Saturday.

Taiyuan authorities urged residents to call the number only for medical emergencies, saying guidance on COVID “falls outside the hotline’s scope.”

A health official in Qingdao said the port city was seeing about 500,000 infections a day, media reported on Friday.

In Wuhan, the central city where COVID emerged three years ago, media reported Friday that the local blood depot had only 4,000 units, enough for two days. The repository called for people to “roll up their sleeves and donate blood.”

Reporting by Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Adaptation by William Mallard

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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