US orders consular staff to leave Shanghai amid COVID surge

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A deserted street in Shanghai, China, on Saturday, April 9, 2022. Kylie Shen/Bloomberg

BEIJING (AP) – The US has ordered all non-emergency consular employees to leave Shanghai, which is under a stringent lockdown to stem the COVID-19 surge.

The State Department said the order is an upgrade from an “authorized” departure issued last week that made the decision voluntary.

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The order covers “non-emergency US government employees and their family members from the US Consulate General in Shanghai.”

In a late Monday announcement, the department said, “The change in our currency reflects our assessment that it is best for our employees and their families to reduce numbers and scale down our operations as we cope with changing conditions on the ground.” deal with. ,

The department also issued a series 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 a sudden ban or quarantine.”

Many residents in the city of 26 million have been confined to their homes for three weeks. Many describe an increasingly desperate situation, in which families are unable to leave their homes or obtain food and supplies of daily necessities, while those who test positive for the virus are forced into mass quarantine centres. where conditions have been described as crowded and unsanitary at times.

Despite complaints, China has stuck to its “zero-COVID” strategy of tackling the outbreak with strict isolation and mass testing.

China’s government and entirely state-controlled media are becoming increasingly defensive about complaints about COVID-19 containment measures.

Beijing reacted angrily to last week’s voluntary departure advisory, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian saying China “strongly dissatisfied and strongly opposes the US side’s baseless allegations against China’s response to the pandemic.”

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 “separation of parents and children”.

Despite this, and signs that radical policy is being set by the ruling Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, China has rejected any notion that its response is political in nature. Xi has called for social stability for a major party congress later this year, in which he is expected to hold an unprecedented third term as party leader.

Shanghai officials also say they have secured daily supplies for residents, following complaints about the delivery of food and other necessities.

Residents have resorted to buying groceries as they are not allowed to leave their buildings, with only partial success in getting essential items.

Shanghai says it will gradually lift some restrictions in areas where there have been no new infections in the past two weeks. Residents will be able to move around their districts but will not be able to meet in groups. Others will be confined to their immediate neighbourhood.

The capital, Beijing, has seen relatively few restrictions, although the Erjifang neighborhood, including the famous 798 arts district, has been closed and classified as high-risk after eight infections were reported in the past two weeks.

China is facing one of its worst local outbreaks since the pandemic began. China is still mostly closed to international travel, even as much of the world has sought ways to live with the virus.

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