A look at much of China’s aggressive “zero COVID” strategy: Testing: NPR


Shanghai has reported a new wave of COVID-19 cases, and authorities have started mandatory mass testing in most parts of the city in an effort to stop it. Testing is the cornerstone of the Chinese government’s aggressive strategy to stamp out the coronavirus. And as NPR’s John Roach reports, even when it’s not mandatory, it’s still essential.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: This is a new piece of the soundtrack to life in China these days.

Unidentified Person #1: (Speaking Mandarin).

RUWITCH: These are woodwinds playing recorded messages. Some advertise that proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required to enter a building or neighborhood. Others advertise procedures at local testing sites.

Unidentified Child: (Speaks Mandarin).

Roech: In Chinese cities these days, taking the test at one of these locations has become a prominent rhythm in the rhythm of life.

Unidentified Person #1: (Speaking Mandarin).

Roech: Here’s why – almost every indoor public place requires proof of a negative test – office buildings, restaurants, even the subway. Sometimes you don’t have to get tested every day, but when cases come up, things get tighter. In Shenzhen, all 17 million residents were recently asked to get tested every 24 hours when only a small number of cases emerged. Xiaoxia is doing food delivery there, and that doesn’t bother him.

XIAO XIA: (via an interpreter) It’s not really about whether that’s a good thing or not. It is everyone’s responsibility. All we can do is respect and follow the policy.

Roech: Test sites dot the urban landscape of China. Some are pier-top tents, others are permanent kiosks. In Shanghai, authorities say there are more than 15,000 of them strategically located throughout the city.

Unidentified Person #2: (Speaking Mandarin).

ROITCH: That way, officials say, everyone in Shanghai’s 25 million residents is within a 15-minute walk of a PCR test. The test is paid for by the local government and is free for residents here. Elsewhere, some cities are reported to have run out of budgets and are charging a small fee. To take the test, you have to show a special QR code in an app on your smartphone.

Unidentified Person #3: (Speaking Mandarin).

Roach: On a hot afternoon in Shanghai, a health worker in a white hazmat suit is examining mines.

So they scanned my code. Now I’m waiting for the guy to put on the gloves and wipe my mouth. Open my mouth, here we go.

A long cotton swab is pushed near the back of my throat for a second or two.

he did.

Later in the evening, the results came back negative, and the health code on my phone updates shows that I still don’t have COVID-19. For the most part, people seem to take it all in full swing, like Fiona, who spoke to NPR while waiting in a long line to be scanned in Shenzhen.

Fiona: (Through a translator) Usually, you can get this done in about 10 or five minutes. There are a lot of test sites now, so it’s really convenient.

Roech: Despite China’s strict controls on the coronavirus, there are still cases here, although the official number and death toll are down. Fiona did not want to give her full name for fear of criticism of the government. She believes that getting tested every day isn’t necessarily a great way to stop the virus.

Fiona: (Through an interpreter) But at least you can make everyone feel like they can relax with others because everyone does the tests and everyone has the test results to show them.

Roech: Things get difficult when the test results are not negative. Anyone who tests positive is transferred to a government isolation facility. Their apartment building and office can be closed. And if a wave forms, entire cities could be closed, too, like Shanghai for two months this spring. Back on the street, a construction worker, surnamed Wu, who also did not want his full name to be revealed, said the illness from COVID did not frighten him.

WU: (Via interpreter) The thing I’m afraid of the most is quarantine. If you get COVID, you should quarantine. This is required.

Roach: And if you are sent into quarantine, he says, it makes it difficult to provide for the family. John Roech, NPR News, Shanghai.

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