Chaos breaks out in Shanghai airport as authorities try to hold workers there for Covid-19 testing
Viral videos show scenes of chaos at Shanghai’s Pudong airport on November 22, as officials sought to keep workers on the premises for testing after the discovery of two new Covid-19 cases linked to the airport’s cargo handling division. Tensions eventually calmed and medical workers were able to test 17,719 cargo staff between Sunday evening and Monday morning.
In order to contain a cluster of seven cases that originated from the airport’s cargo area throughout the month of November, Shanghai municipal authorities ordered the closure of the airport and the testing of all cargo workers at temporary stations set up in the airport’s parking garage on Sunday evening.
However, these measures caused chaos and panic among airport workers. Videos shared on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, showed authorities in white hazmat suits trying to contain hordes of people for testing.
more videos now— 巴丢草 Badiucao (@badiucao) November 22, 2020
looks like it is terribly organized
absolutely no social distance，just all packed on each otherpic.twitter.com/yXZsGoNfKT
In a November 22 Twitter video posted by Chinese-Australian artist Badiucao, crowds clamour in a parking garage in Shanghai’s Pudong airport as authorities try to push them back.
Another video shows a closer view of the crowds trying to break free of the authorities holding them in. A woman in the background exclaims: “My God, they’re going to start fighting.”
上海蒲東機埸核酸檢測產生混亂，現場弩張劍拔，是疫情嚴重還是割韮盛況？不得而知，只見人群如豬群被驅趕，被圍困。 pic.twitter.com/Q0DfmaQOKM— 林才竣Michael新號 (@Michael90656953) November 22, 2020
The caption of this November 22 Twitter video reads: “Nucleic acid testing at Shanghai Pudong Airport has caused chaos. The crowd is being herded and besieged like pigs.”
According to this video, someone in the crowd also fainted during the commotion. Training his smartphone on a stretcher, a man narrates that authorities are carrying the person out of the parking garage.
上海浦东机场又测出两例新冠阳性，一万四千名员工都被扣下，回不了家 pic.twitter.com/AuwxduKRpG— Lin X (@airconlin) November 22, 2020
As tensions were diffused, the overnight testing began
As the situation neared its tipping point, authorities appear to have succeeded in diffusing tensions and re-establishing order, although it was not clear what caused the change.
China Press, an influential Chinese newspaper in Malaysia, reported that due to the influx of personnel, workers were asked to return to their stations to wait to be tested.
Near midnight on November 22, the official Weibo account of Shanghai International Airport’s Public Security Bureau posted photos of orderly queues in the airport’s parking garage and of workers being systematically tested on the second floor of the P4 parking lot.
In a press conference the next morning, vice-president of the Shanghai Airport Authority Zhou Junlong announced that 17,719 cargo workers had been tested as of 9.30am, that 11,544 tests had already come out negative, and the remaining samples were still being processed. Officials did not say whether the workers were allowed to go home or if they have been placed under quarantine.
Zhou also said that the Airport Authority would implement strict measures of prevention and control in its cargo handling unit, where the cluster of cases originated. This includes disinfection of equipment and spaces in the cargo area, regular testing for high-risk cargo workers, and emergency vaccinations for workers on a voluntary basis.
Nearly a million people in China have received an experimental Covid-19 vaccine that is still undergoing trials but has been approved for emergency use by Beijing. Sinopharm, a Chinese pharmaceutical group, claimed that there has not been a single infection following vaccination and that only a few people experienced mild symptoms.
China Press reported that by the next morning, the crowds at Pudong airport had considerably thinned as the airport resumed its usual operations. A video posted on November 23 by Global Times, a Chinese media affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, shows a calm, airy terminal, with travellers affirming their confidence in the airport’s Covid-19 control measures despite the chaos the night before. However, the Washington Post reported that hundreds of flights into the airport on Monday were cancelled, according to the flight-tracking app UmeTrip.
Chinese authorities crack down on local Covid-19 cases
Pudong airport’s transformation from chaotic to calm in a matter of hours is only one example of Chinese authorities’ stringent crackdowns on any new Covid-19 infections. After dwindling down to almost zero, local cases have cropped up in several cities last week.
After the detection of five new cases in Tianjin, a coastal metropolis in northeastern China, on November 20, local authorities ordered mass testing of the inhabitants of the city’s Binhai New Area, about 3 million people. The transmissions came from imported frozen products whose packaging was found to contain traces of the virus. After other frozen food in Xian, Jinan and Wuhan tested positive for the virus two weeks ago, Chinese authorities ordered wider testing and disinfection of imported frozen goods.
Authorities also closed down the city of Manzhouli, located 3,000km away from Shanghai in Inner Mongolia, after two new Covid-19 cases were discovered on November 21. By the next day, measures were taken to suspend trains and flights, and shut down roads and schools. City workers investigated and isolated 194 close contacts of the infected individuals.