Shanghai students must return to school, as the Chinese city slowly emerges from a long Covid-19 lockdown

Schoolchildren in Shanghai will gradually resume some in-person classes in June with daily Covid-19 tests, the local government announced Thursday, as the Chinese metropolis gradually emerges from a long lockdown that has crippled it.

The country is battling its worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began, with epicenter Shanghai banning its 25 million people from leaving their homes for weeks.

Workers wearing protective gear chat with a woman on a street during a Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown in Shanghai’s Jing’an district on May 25, 2022. Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP.

Some of the city’s restrictions have eased recently as cases drop, though much of the population is still not allowed to venture outside for more than a few hours a day at most.

Schools have been closed since March 12, weeks before the megacity’s lockdown officially began.

Students in the last two years of high school – who must prepare for the all-important college entrance exams – will return to their campuses on June 6, Shanghai education official Yang Zhenfeng said Thursday during a a press conference.

They will be joined a week later by senior middle school students, while all other students are to stay home and take online classes, Yang said.

“We will ensure that students are dabbed on campus after school every day,” with their PCR test results available the next morning, Yang said.

Shanghai’s lockdown has weighed heavily on business and morale, prompting city officials to allow some factories and public transport lines to resume operations in an uneven reopening.

China is the latest major economy to follow a zero Covid policy with mass lockdowns, routine testing and movement restrictions whenever clusters of infection emerge.

Those who test positive for Covid – even if they show no symptoms – are sent to mass quarantine centers or isolation facilities.

In another sign of slowing infections in Shanghai, state media reported that a 7,300-bed makeshift quarantine center was closed on Wednesday.

Converted from the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Center, the hospital served as the city’s first large-scale quarantine site for patients with mild or no symptoms.

Patients staying there and in other makeshift quarantine rooms complained to AFP of inadequate sanitary conditions and overworked staff.

China’s zero-Covid approach has been severely challenged by the rise of the Omicron variant, which has caused hundreds of thousands of infections nationwide this year.

Authorities have also paid greater attention to low vaccination rates among the elderly population, long a weak point in the country’s defense against the virus.

Authorities have stepped up incentives for the elderly to get bitten, including a neighborhood near Beijing’s Temple of Heaven that hangs up to 1,000 yuan ($149) in gift cards for residents over 80 who take their first hit.

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