The move was a stark reminder of how far the country is willing to go to stick to the zero-tolerance approach favored by leader Xi Jinping, with the megacity shutting down after more than 700 cases were reported the previous week. .
And it came despite previous efforts by authorities to quell rumors that such a lockdown was imminent, with police arresting a resident accused of making “provocative comments” on social media.
The lockdown forces all residents to stay home from 6 p.m. Thursday, except for mandatory Covid testing. Mass testing will take place from Thursday to Sunday, the city government said.
Households can send someone out to shop once a day with a negative test, and residents with emergency requests such as seeking medical care must get approval from a neighborhood committee.
All businesses must be closed except supermarkets, pharmacies and hospitals. Restaurant meals are also suspended, with only take-out allowed.
Shanghai was reporting thousands of infections a day in late March as it headed into lockdown. On Wednesday, Chengdu reported only 156 cases.
Panic buying followed similar scenes earlier in the week following speculation on social media that authorities were considering a lockdown.
On Monday, a Chengdu resident with the handle “Rainforest” on WeChat, the popular Chinese messaging app, said in a group chat that authorities would discuss whether to impose a lockdown during a evening meeting. Screenshots of his posts were leaked and went viral on social media, sending locals buying groceries and daily necessities from supermarkets.
On Tuesday, Chengdu police said WeChat user surnamed She had caused panic among citizens and disrupted epidemic prevention work by posting “provocative comments”. She was detained for 15 days and fined 1,000 yuan for “inciting quarrels and causing trouble.”
Doubling down on zero-Covid
China is one of the last places in the world to enforce strict zero-Covid measures, which rely on extensive digital surveillance, mass testing, extensive quarantines and instant lockdowns.
The strategy has faced growing challenges from the highly infectious variant of Omicron, with authorities across China struggling to stem outbreaks. Over the past 10 days, new local cases have been recorded in all 31 provinces and regions of mainland China.
In the northern port city of Dalian, a lockdown was imposed on Thursday and is expected to last until Sunday in its main urban areas, affecting around 3 million residents.
In Shijiazhuang, the capital of northern China’s Hebei province, authorities suspended public transport across the city over the weekend after 30 infections were found during mass testing. Four districts have ordered more than 3 million residents to work from home until Wednesday afternoon.
In western China, Xining, the capital of Qinghai province and home to 2.5 million people, ordered lockdowns from Monday to Thursday in its urban areas and suspended public transport.
Continued lockdowns have crippled economic growth. In July, youth unemployment in China hit an all-time high, with one in five young people out of work.
While initially supporting the zero-tolerance approach, the Chinese public has grown increasingly frustrated with the endless restrictions on their daily lives. The often ruthless and chaotic enforcement of policy by local governments has further fueled public anger and resentment.
Despite the economic and social toll, Chinese leaders have repeatedly vowed to stick to the zero-Covid policy, insisting it saves lives. Health officials say the relatively low vaccination rate among China’s elderly population and inadequate rural health care capacity are barriers to abandoning zero Covid.
Local authorities across China are under enormous pressure to prevent outbreaks from escalating weeks away from a key Communist Party meeting. Maintaining social stability has always been a top priority in the run-up to important political events.
The 20th Party Congress, due to begin on October 16, is expected to see Chinese leader Xi Jinping extend his grip on power for another five years.
Some Chinese who have become disillusioned with hope zero Covid restrictions may be eased after the congress, but the government has offered no timetable on a possible policy change.