February 24, 2024


Science It Works

Shanghai reopens after suppressing COVID: A triumph for science and public health

China’s largest city, Shanghai, largely reopened Wednesday morning after a two-month lockdown that successfully beat back an outbreak of the virulent Omicron BA.2 subvariant of COVID-19. The event was a triumph of public health mobilization, as the outbreak, which reached a peak of almost 30,000 infections per day in mid-April, took the lives of fewer than 600 people, mostly elderly and unvaccinated.

During those two months, most offices, factories, and other workplaces were closed, although production continued in certain key industries with workers bunking down in the plants and rarely going out in a process known as a closed-loop system. Schools shifted to online education, mass transit was virtually empty of passengers, and the few stores that remained open could provide goods only on a curbside take-out basis. The city itself was shut off from the rest of the country, with visitors allowed to enter only after a 14-day period of quarantine.

For the most part, residents remained in their homes, with the internet their principal connection to the outside world. Food deliveries and supplies of other necessities were organized through the country’s extensive networks of housing blocks and neighborhood committees, later supplanted by the government.

On Wednesday, nearly one million passengers rode the subways carrying passengers to work as stores and malls are rapidly opening for brisk business. Close to 330,000 cars were traversing the city streets. Shanghai’s landmark Yuyuan Garden Malls reopened operating under normal hours. Supermarkets have opened their doors to local customers. Even Shanghai’s top automaker SAIC Motor reported that production is at 80 percent of capacity. 

More than 22.5 million residents (90 percent of Shanghai’s population) now live in low-risk districts, meaning that these sections have been declared free of infection for more than two weeks. Rigorous bi-weekly COVID PCR testing continues, as the public health apparatus remains on full alert. As one resident speaking with South China Morning Post noted, “The sirens and the noise from vehicles are back to pre-lockdown levels, but this is the Shanghai we know, good or bad.”

It is impossible to overstate the political significance of the successful fight against COVID in Shanghai. There can no longer be any debate about what policies should be pursued to protect the world’s population from this deadly infection. 

As the second of Marx’s deservedly famous Theses on Feuerbach declares: “The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking.”

The example of China proves that zero-COVID is effective, even against the most infectious variant of coronavirus to emerge so far. The outbreak in Shanghai apparently had two causes: infections brought from outside China, inevitable given the city’s role in the world economy, and lax enforcement of the zero-COVID policy by officials in the city, which was overturned by Beijing after the number of infections began to skyrocket.

The COVID trendline in China since March 1. (Source: WSWS media)