SHENZHEN – Some districts of China’s southern tech hub Shenzhen extended curbs on public activities, dining out and entertainment venues on Friday, but city officials stopped short of a full lockdown as they try to rein in rising Covid-19 cases.

Restrictions in the business districts of Futian and Longhua, home to a major campus of Apple iPhone assembler Foxconn, have been extended until Sunday, while residents in several areas across the city were asked to work from home, if possible.

Curbing activities of tens of millions of people intensifies the challenges for China to cushion the economic impact of its zero-Covid-19 policy that has kept its borders mostly shut to international visitors, and made it an outlier as other countries learn to live with the coronavirus.

Most of Shenzhen’s nearly 18 million population is now under Covid-19 controls amid the city’s most serious outbreak since spring. At least seven of 10 districts have introduced control measures, such as closing entertainment venues and restaurants.

Wide swaths of Futian and Luohu districts, where cases have been found, have been locked down, with residents ordered to stay home. Those in other districts have been told to avoid gatherings and shelter in place as much as possible.

Unlike its swift decision in March to lock down the city to fight community infections, Shenzhen has taken a more considered approach in the current flare-up since late August.

On Thursday evening, officials sought to quell rumours that the city would undergo a full lockdown as it did for a week in March, and said people could leave and return to their homes with a 24-hour proof of testing.

So far, the authorities have largely avoided shutting down offices and factories.

In south-western China, the megacity of Chengdu went into lockdown late Thursday with mass testing for Covid-19 planned through the weekend. Uncertainty remained whether the lockdown would be lifted after the testing ends on Sunday.

The city of about 21 million people and capital of Sichuan province reported 150 new local cases for Thursday, versus 157 infections on Wednesday.

Non-essential employees were told to work from home. Industrial firms engaged in key manufacturing and able to manage on closed campuses were exempted from work-from-home requirements.

Toyota Motor’s Chengdu plant, which has an annual production capacity of 105,000 vehicles, is “operating normally”, and inside a closed loop at the request of the Sichuan government, a company official told Reuters.

Sweden’s Volvo Cars, majority owned by Chinese automotive company Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, has shut its plant in Chengdu, a company spokesman said Thursday.

‘Covid Zero’ anxiety

The anxiety in Shenzhen, which already experienced a seven-day complete lockdown in mid-March, underscores how China’s enduring zero-Covid-19 is keeping the nation on edge, even almost three years after the coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan.

Though new cases in the country are fewer than elsewhere in the world, Beijing has pressed ahead with its strict control measures that brought widespread misery to Shanghai during a gruelling lockdown in April and May. 

Situated on the mainland just across the border from Hong Kong, Shenzhen is home to some of China’s biggest companies, including Huawei Technologies and BYD, which are now accustomed to “closed loop” systems.

The restrictions mean employees only move between work and home, physically cut off from people outside their factories or offices. Such a method has been used by businesses to avoid major disruptions.

A Foxconn representative said Thursday that operations at the firm’s Shenzhen plant were normal.