Shanghai sets the record straight: City is not in a lockdown amid coronavirus outbreak

Daniel Ren

The Shanghai municipality has denied speculation it would lock down the city to contain the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, keeping the local economy open for global investors after winning its biggest customer yet in Tesla Inc.

Gu Honghui, a deputy secretary general of the Shanghai government, said speculation about an impending lockdown of the city was a misunderstanding. City officials are closely monitoring the health situation before taking any major decisions that could affect business and daily activities, he added.

“Talks of a lockdown resulted from the misreading of a recent administrative measure,” Gu told reporters at a briefing in Shanghai on Monday, referring to a measure on curb bus transport links. “We have a team of top professionals to advise us on detailed measures to take [during the viral outbreak]. Relevant policies will be made after fully assessing the situation day by day.”

At least 10 mainland cities, and at least 33 million people, from the epicentre in Wuhan to nine other cities in the central Hubei province, have been put on lockdown. The outbreak, first reported in Wuhan in late December, has killed at least 80 people in China and spread to at least eight other countries.

Rumours of a lockdown in Shanghai stemmed from the local government’s move on Sunday to suspend all long-haul bus services connecting the city to other parts of the country to contain the outbreak.

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As of Monday, Shanghai had 53 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and one reported death. It also had another 90 suspected cases. Across the nation, 2,835 people have been infected by the virus, according to the National Health Commission.

Yang Xiaoxi, deputy director of the Shanghai Transport Commission, said the city’s airports, railway stations and motorways remained operational as normal. Local authorities have strengthened checks on travellers’ temperature at the entry and exit points, he said at the briefing.

Shanghai’s economy expanded 6 per cent last year, the slowest pace since 1990, as the bruising US-China trade war took its toll on manufacturers and services firms. The city is aiming to repeat the growth pace in 2020, pledging to lure more foreign capital, mayor Ying Yong said earlier this month.

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Tesla, maker of the US bestselling electric car, started producing its Model 3 last month from its US$5 billion Gigafactory 3 plant in Shanghai, its first facility outside the US.

The mayor said local government officials should behave like “retail assistants”, rather than bureaucrats with power to approve projects, to draw more foreign-funded industrial projects like Tesla.

“Shanghai officials will be wary of taking a drastic lockdown measure given the city’s status as a gateway for foreign businesses to the mainland,” said Gao Shen, a Shanghai-based independent manufacturing sector analyst. “Unlike other big cities, Shanghai is more international and needs to make its policies more business-friendly.”

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