US authorises ‘voluntary departure’ of non-essential personnel from Shanghai

The United States has authorised ”voluntary departure” of non-essential personnel from Shanghai due to the tough coronavirus restrictions in the city.

The US State Department said in a statement that the families of all Americans have also been granted permission to leave.

The country has issued an advisory against travelling to Shanghai “due to Covid-19 related restrictions, including the risk of parents and children being separated.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration is closely monitoring a coronavirus lockdown in Shanghai that could cause delays to air cargo.

Other Chinese cities tightened curbs as Shanghai on Friday announced a record 21,000 new COVID-19 cases.

The second-largest Chinese city, which is the country’s financial hub, has locked down its population of 26 million people amid the rising cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

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After residents complained about the harsh lockdown conditions leading to shortages of food and basic necessities, three local officials in Shanghai have been sacked over a slack response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Total cases in the outbreak that began last month in Shanghai have soared past the 100,000 mark, making it one of China’s most serious since the virus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019.

In Shanghai, the Chinese government implemented a highly controversial policy of separating coronavirus-positive children from parents who tested negative, but then had to relax it following criticism.

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The Communist Party leadership in Beijing is working to squelch complaints, especially online, in hopes of preventing the lockdown and accompanying dissatisfaction from becoming a political issue ahead of a key party congress later this year.

China’s COVID-19 policy has “once again withstood the test, contributing useful experience for the world to fight against the virus and host major international events,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said in an address at a ceremony Friday honoring Chinese Games participants.

In a further endorsement of the government’s approach, Xi credited China’s “closed loop” management with keeping the infection rate to just 0.45 per cent of those involved in this year’s Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games.

(With inputs from agencies)