north-south highway across

Here, Beijing’s Strict Corona Policy Completely Paralyzes Shanghai

The zero-corona policy of the Chinese central government is merciless. The latest satellite images illustrate the massive impact on life and the economy of the metropolis on the Yangtze River.

“Economy from above” is a collaboration between WirtschaftsWoche and LiveEO. This is a translation of the original article written in German by Jörn Petring and Thomas Stölzel. Access the original article here.

The Chinese government’s controversial zero-corona strategy has brought the economic metropolis of Shanghai to a virtual standstill in recent weeks. Even press photographers were barely able to move around the city during that time to document what was happening. The latest satellite images from LiveEO now show just how much life and business in and around Shanghai suffered in April as a result of the measures ordered by Beijing.

Originally, the big lockdown in Shanghai was imposed in March as part of the strict zero-corona policy. Initially, the population in the eastern part of the city was not to be allowed outside for a few days, after which it was the turn of the western part. The authorities hoped to break the chains of infection with mass tests – but the number of cases continued to rise. A few days of curfew turned into a month in which a large part of the city of 26 million people came to a standstill.

The north-south highway across the Suzhou River, for example, which was built in the 1990s, is considered one of the two busiest roads in Shanghai. Satellite images from the past few years almost always showed columns of cars or traffic jams. However, when authorities imposed an almost complete lockdown on Shanghai at the end of March, traffic dropped dramatically, according to satellite images. Images from April 7 and April 17 show only a handful of vehicles on the section photographed, where there are usually hundreds, if not thousands, on the road.

  • north-south high road shanghai china
  • north-south high road shanghai china
  • north-south high road shanghai china
  • north-south high road shanghai china
  • north-south high road shanghai china

Images: LiveEO/Google Earth, LiveEO/Skywatch

People are usually either not allowed to leave their homes completely or are restricted to a few streets in their neighborhood. Social media are full of complaints about insufficient food supplies. Videos of brutal attacks are also shown again and again, with security personnel and police chasing people down the street if they leave their homes. Others who test positive are carried out of their homes against their will and, despite no or only mild symptoms, shipped to central quarantine camps where beds are packed tightly together and lights are on 24 hours a day.

The Nanpu Bridge, part of the Inner Ring Road, with its distinctive traffic circle approach, is considered one of the most important connections to the new Shanghai district of Pudong, where huge skyscrapers have been built in recent decades. It, too, is actually a place where traffic runs close together, frequently backing up. And here, too, satellite images from recent days and weeks show almost no cars.

  • nanpu bridge shanghai china
  • nanpu bridge shanghai china
  • nanpu bridge shanghai china
  • nanpu bridge shanghai china
  • nanpu bridge shanghai china

Images: LiveEO/Google Earth, LiveEO/Skywatch

The resentment of many people is now so great that the censors can hardly keep up with deleting criticism of the government from the web.

On the short message service Weibo, even a rapidly spreading hashtag was recently censored that consisted of the first words of the Chinese national anthem: “Stand up! All who no longer want to be slaves!” Shanghai residents had used the hashtag to draw attention to the chaotic conditions.

Where the Traffic Jam in Shanghai Is Currently Out of Order

The places in the city area shown on the satellite photos

shanghai satellite photos
Source: own research Graphic: Patrick Zeh

While the government’s zero covid strategy ensures empty streets in the city, a huge traffic jam has formed at sea. Transponder data from the tracking portal MarineTraffic show that hundreds of ships are currently parked in front of the metropolis on the Yangtze River. A snapshot of this has been doing the rounds on the social network Twitter in recent days.

However, a more detailed analysis of the data shows that such a large number of ships at this location is relatively normal. However, things are different around 100 kilometers south off the city of Ningbo. Here, transponder data and satellite images show that the number of waiting ships has recently increased massively. The port of Shanghai, for example, has had to significantly reduce its handling capacity in recent weeks due to the lockdown. Meanwhile, Ningbo is apparently serving as an alternative port for many cargo ships.

east china seaeast china sea
Waters off the Chinese city of Ningbo, East China Sea.
30.04.2021 (left picture): Only a few ships are waiting to enter the port.
20.04.2022 (right picture): Due to the lockdown in Shanghai, the number of waiting ships has increased massively.

Images: LiveEO/Sentinel

According to Jochum Reuter of supply chain analyst FourKites, the volume of goods handled at the port of Shanghai in mid-April was around 23 percent lower than in mid-March. In Ningbo, by contrast, volumes were up 15 percent. There was also a massive increase in the time ships had to wait off Shanghai for clearance at the port – from 3.4 to 8.3 days for imports. Other analysts are already warning that the consequences would be felt around the world for months.

With the arrival of Omikron BA.2, China is currently experiencing the largest Corona wave since the pandemic began more than two years ago. Curfews are also in place for many millions of people in other major cities. The strict Corona measures are also affecting German companies. Some shut down their production for weeks or complain about transport problems. German exporters already suffered a 9.8 percent drop in trade with China in March.

Thanks to a strong January and February, the Chinese economy still grew unexpectedly strongly in the first quarter at 4.8 percent, but the economy already cooled significantly in March due to the increasing lockdowns. Economists are convinced that the government’s ambitious annual growth target of 5.5 percent can now only be achieved, if at all, with massive stimulus packages. It is virtually impossible that China will change its strategy and abandon its strict measures in the medium term.

In view of the party congress in the fall, at which state and party leader Xi Jinping wants to be confirmed in office, opening experiments seem too risky for the leadership. The more likely scenario is that there will be outbreaks and strict lockdowns in more Chinese cities in the coming months. With corresponding consequences for the global economy.

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