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Covid news: Shanghai eases draconian lockdown as UK cases may be ‘levelling off’

Unknown number of people are allowed out in Shanghai following unrest over lockdown

Shanghai: Looting and unrest in Chinese city amid strict Covid lockdown

Shanghai has eased a draconian two-week lockdown to allow some residents out of their homes after videos posted online showed what was said to be people who ran out of food breaking into a supermarket and shouting appeals for help.

The number of people who were allowed out in the city of 25 million wasn't immediately clear. The Chinese government said some markets and pharmacies also would reopen.

The abrupt closure of most businesses and orders to stay home left the public angry about a lack of access to food and medicine.

People who test positive for the virus have been forced into sprawling temporary quarantine facilities criticized by some as crowded and unsanitary.

Meanwhile, Covid cases in the UK remain high but could be levelling off, according to official data.

Office for National statistic data showed that one in 13 people in the UK had the infection in the week ending 2 April.

The estimated number of infections is, however down slightly on the previous last week, which may be a sign of cases beginning to level off.

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Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s rolling coverage of the Covid pandemic.

We’ll bring you updates from the UK and elsewhere as they come in.

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Shanghai eases draconian lockdown

Some residents of Shanghai were allowed out of their homes Tuesday as the city of 25 million eased a two-week-old shutdown Tuesday after videos posted online showed what was said to be people who ran out of food breaking into a supermarket and shouting appeals for help.

The number of people who were allowed out wasn’t immediately clear. The government said some markets and pharmacies also would reopen.

The abrupt closure of most businesses and orders to stay home left the public fuming about a lack of access to food and medicine. People who test positive for the virus have been forced into sprawling temporary quarantine facilities criticized by some as crowded and unsanitary.

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UK cases still high but could be levelling off

Covid cases in the UK remain high but could be levelling off, according to official data.

Office for National statistic data showed that one in 13 people in the UK had the infection in the week ending 2 April.

The estimated number of infections is, however down slightly on the previous last week, which may be a sign of cases beginning to level off.

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US Supreme Court to stop public access in April as Covid cases rise

The United States Supreme Court said on Monday it will stop allowing the public to attend courtroom sessions in person during the month of April as coronavirus cases rise in the District of Columbia.

Despite infections remaining relatively flat nationwide, a number of high-profile political figures in Washington D.C. have tested positive for COVID-19 recently, including members of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The highly transmissible BA.2 Omicron variant accounts for the majority of cases in the United States and has contributed to the reintroduction of restrictions and warnings about infection rates in some other countries.

“Courtroom access will be limited to the Justices, essential Court personnel, counsel in the scheduled cases, and journalists with full-time press credentials issued by the Supreme Court,” the country’s highest federal court said in a statement.

A live audio feed of oral arguments will be provided.

Philadelphia on Monday became the first major U.S. city to re-impose a mask mandate, making it obligatory to wear face masks in indoor public settings such as restaurants, schools and businesses from next week.

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US pulls all ‘non-emergency’ government employees out of shanghai

Washington set up a possible new clash with Beijing by announcing all “non-emergency U.S. government employees” would be withdrawn from its Shanghai Consulate while consular officers would stay. The Chinese government complained last week after the State Department said diplomats and their families could leave if they wanted.

The unusual severity of Shanghai’s shutdown starting March 28 appeared to be driven as much by politics as by public health concerns.

The struggle in China’s richest city is an embarrassment during a politically sensitive year when President Xi Jinping is expected to try to break with tradition and award himself a third five-year term as leader of the ruling Communist Party.

Workers bring supplies to a gate community in Shanghai

China’s case numbers are relatively low, but the ruling party is enforcing a “zero-tolerance” strategy that has suspended access to major cities to isolate every infected person. Some local officials were fired after being accused of failing to act aggressively enough.

The government reported 24,659 new cases through midnight Monday, including 23,387 with no symptoms. That included 23,346 in Shanghai, only 998 of whom had symptoms.

In Shanghai, more than 200,000 cases but no deaths have been reported in the latest wave of infections.

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Philadelphia to restore indoor mask mandate as cases rise

Philadelphia became the first major U.S. city to reinstate its indoor mask mandate on Monday after reporting a sharp increase in coronavirus infections, with the city’s top health official saying she wanted to forestall a potential new wave driven by an omicron subvariant. Confirmed COVID-19 cases have risen more than 50% in 10 days, the threshold at which the city’s guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors, said Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, the health commissioner. Health officials believe the recent spike is being driven by the highly transmissible BA.2 subvariant of omicron, which has spread rapidly throughout Europe and Asia, and has become dominant in the U.S. in recent weeks.

A sign asks people in Philadelphia to wear face masks

“If we fail to act now, knowing that every previous wave of infections has been followed by a wave of hospitalizations, and then a wave of deaths, it will be too late for many of our residents,” said Bettigole, noting about 750 Philadelphia residents died in the wintertime omicron outbreak. “This is our chance to get ahead of the pandemic, to put our masks on until we have more information about the severity of this new variant.” Health inspectors will begin enforcing the mask mandate at city businesses on April 18.

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Taiwan will see 1,000 daily local COVID cases by end of month - health minister

Taiwan expects daily domestic COVID-19 infections to top 1,000 a day by the end of the month, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said on Tuesday, calling on people not to panic about a wave that is causing few serious cases.

Taiwan has been a model for how to control the pandemic. It moved early and effectively with such measures as largely closing its borders and implementing highly efficient contact tracing.

But since the beginning of this year the island of 23 million people has recorded some 4,000 domestic infections, driven by the more infectious Omicron variant, though more than 99% of those have involved only minor symptoms or none at all.

Speaking on a Taiwanese radio station, Chen said daily cases could exceed 1,000 by the end of April.

“I think that, looking at the present trends, by the end of April local cases will almost certainly top 1,000,” he said, when asked whether that daily number would be reached next month.

High-risk areas are concentrated in northern Taiwan, including the capital, Taipei, but Chen said he thought the situation was much more controllable in other areas.

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Re-cap: What do we know about ‘stealth omicron' so far?

What do we know about “stealth omicron” so far?

It’s an extra-contagious version of the omicron variant, but it doesn’t seem to cause more severe disease.

Since it was first identified in November, BA.2 has been spreading around the globe, driving new surges in parts of Asia and Europe. It’s now the dominant coronavirus version in the U.S. and more than five dozen other countries.

Full report:

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Full report: US orders consular staff to leave Shanghai amid Covid lockdown

The United States has ordered all its non-emergency consular staff to leave Shanghai amid a strict lockdown imposed on the city following a surge in Covid-19 cases.

My colleague Stuti Mishra has the full report:

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Britain widens access to Pfizer's COVID antiviral drug through trial

Britain will expand access to Pfizer’s oral antiviral COVID-19 treatment to thousands more people by adding it to a trial to assess how best to use the drug in its highly vaccinated population, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

Paxlovid, a combination of Pfizer’s new pill with an older antiviral ritonavir, was made available to thousands of people with compromised immune systems in Britain in February.

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