US orders non-essential consulate staff to leave Shanghai

Shanghai residents have begun to chafe at tough coronavirus lockdown restrictions (AFP/Hector RETAMAL)

The United States said Tuesday it had ordered all non-essential employees at its Shanghai consulate to leave, voicing concerns for the safety of Americans in China as the government enforces hard lockdowns to contain Covid-19.

China has stuck to a policy of “zero Covid”, aiming to eliminate all infections through rigid shutdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions.

But the policy has come under strain since March, with more than 100,000 cases in Shanghai leading to a lockdown of the city’s 25 million inhabitants.

That has sparked widespread outcry over food shortages and an inflexible policy of sending anyone who tests positive to quarantine centres.

The US State Department ordered the departure “due to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak”, a spokesperson from its Beijing embassy said in a statement.

American diplomats have also raised “concerns about the safety and welfare of US citizens with People’s Republic of China officials”, the statement added.

“It is best for our employees and their families to be reduced in number and our operations to be scaled down as we deal with the changing circumstances on the ground,” it read.

Shanghai reported more than 23,000 new infections on Tuesday, while dozens of cities across the country battled smaller outbreaks.

Some residents who live in neighbourhoods deemed a low virus risk have been allowed outside their homes this week, but unclear rules have left most in limbo.

One Shanghai resident named Dan said he “couldn’t really believe it” when he was permitted to leave his neighbourhood Monday after it was classified a lower-risk area.

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