China reported seven more Covid-19 deaths in Shanghai on Tuesday, as major firms such as Tesla forged ahead to resume production after a damaging weeks-long lockdown.
Supply chains have clogged and businesses have been forced to halt production in the metropolis of 25 million, as authorities cling to a zero-Covid approach to combat China’s worst outbreak since the virus first emerged in late 2019.
Beijing’s strategy of eliminating clusters as they surface – through hard lockdowns and mass testing – has kept fatalities low, but the measures are taking a toll on economic growth.
Authorities have called for a “whitelist” of key industries and companies to be drawn up so production can continue, with over 600 firms identified for early work resumption in Shanghai.
US electric car giant Tesla “officially resumed production” on Tuesday, state media reported, after suspending work at its multi-billion-dollar “gigafactory” in the city for over 20 days.
But this will take place in a “closed-loop system”, with staff sleeping on site and being tested for Covid, Bloomberg News reported.
Chinese automaker Saic Motor said this week it was “launching production resumption stress tests”.
Seven new deaths
Tuesday’s fatalities bring Shanghai’s death toll since its lockdown to 10.
Some have cast doubt on official figures in a nation where the vast elderly population has a low vaccination rate.
By comparison, Hong Kong – which also has a high number of unvaccinated people over the age of 60 – has tallied nearly 9,000 deaths among 1.18 million Covid-19 cases since the Omicron variant surged there in January.
Unverified social media posts have claimed Shanghai’s deaths are going unreported, and the messages have been quickly scrubbed from the internet.
Shanghai health officials said Sunday that less than two-thirds of residents over 60 had received two Covid jabs and under 40% had received a booster.
The seven newly reported deaths were all unvaccinated patients, city health official Wu Qianyu told a press conference on Tuesday.
They were aged between 60 and 101, and suffered from underlying conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, according to the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission.
The patients “became severely ill after admission to hospital, and died after ineffective rescue efforts, with the direct cause of death being underlying diseases”, the commission said.
Shanghai logged more than 20,000 new and mostly asymptomatic Covid cases Tuesday, defying officials’ efforts to stamp out the infection.
Many of the city’s residents have been confined to their homes since March, with some flooding social media with complaints of food shortages, spartan quarantine conditions and heavy-handed enforcement.
Protest footage has circulated faster than government censors can delete it.
Chinese officials have scrambled in recent weeks to contain an outbreak spanning multiple regions, largely driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
By one estimate on Monday, at least 44 cities are currently under some form of lockdown in China, affecting around 350 million people.