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2022-06-02 10:24:05  + video 

SHANGHAI — Many Shanghai residents lined up outside coffee shops, bars, and restaurants when the city reopened after a two-month lockdown Wednesday. But some of the longest lines were seen outside COVID-19 testing booths.

The lines snaked through the streets late into Wednesday night and on Thursday morning, as millions waited to get their throats swabbed. Though such tests were conducted within the residential compounds during the lockdown, residents now need to walk to their nearest testing stations, usually within a 15-minute walking distance.

The tests are free until the end of June, and they determine people’s mobility and freedoms. A negative nucleic acid test result from within the last 72 hours is mandatory to board public transport or enter any venue such as parks and malls.

The frequent mass testing is a major part of China’s “zero-COVID” strategy, which authorities say will allow the normal operation of economic activities. It’s now also a part of the central government’s “normalized” testing plan that requires cities to test residents every other day or a few times a week to detect COVID-19 cases early.

Residents line up for COVID-19 test at Zhongyuan Liangwan Cheng housing beside Suzhou Creek, Shanghai, June 1, 2022. Courtesy of Gu Yifan

Residents line up for COVID-19 test at Zhongyuan Liangwan Cheng housing beside Suzhou Creek, Shanghai, June 1, 2022. Courtesy of Gu Yifan

In Shanghai, the 72-hour rule is driving crowds to testing centers, which is testing their capacity, too. Local authorities on Monday said the city had set up 15,000 test stations for its 25 million residents. On Thursday, officials said they would “significantly extend” testing and sampling times, as well as add more 24-hour testing sites. 

The city’s health code app shows one testing kiosk at almost every 200 meters in some densely populated downtown areas. While some said their test took a matter of minutes, many residents complained they had to wait for over an hour.

As many testing booths are only open for about three hours each in the morning and afternoon — a few hospitals, however, offer a 24-hour service — some waiting in line said the staff on duty left after the shifts were over, according to Xinmin Evening News. Those waiting for over an hour said they were so annoyed that they even called the police.

Zhang Zehong from Pudong New District told Sixth Tone she couldn’t test Wednesday as the kiosk in her neighborhood closed two hours earlier than shown on the app. So she went to a hospital with a 24-hour service Thursday morning, only to find no staff and a line stretching over 100 meters.

“So many issues need to be fixed,” Zhang said.

Online, on microblogging platform Weibo, many are sharing similar stories of long testing times. One photo showed people lining up with their umbrellas open to shelter from the sun.

“It’s been very hot recently, several people passed out when standing (in line),” one Weibo user wrote.

“I visited five sites but each had long queues. This is not really humane enough. Don’t these mobile kiosks cause more people to gather?” another Weibo user wrote.

People line up for Covid-19 test near an office building in Changning District, Shanghai, June 2, 2022. Shi Yangkun for Sixth Tone

People line up for Covid-19 test near an office building in Changning District, Shanghai, June 2, 2022. Shi Yangkun for Sixth Tone

Others seemed confused by the testing rules in general. Some posts on Weibo described how they were turned away from hospitals Wednesday, as they still required a negative nucleic acid test result from the last 48 hours instead of the 72 hours.

Meanwhile, some residents told Sixth Tone that some of their nearby sites were not willing to test those who had recovered from COVID-19 and back from quarantine sites, or fangcang. A testing booth near Changping Road and Xikang Road in Jing’an District even had a notice saying “personnel returning from fangcang cannot do nucleic acid tests at the sampling site for the time being,” according to Xinmin Evening News.

However, the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission has said that those returning from quarantine centers can get tested in their neighborhood booths. They are required to show a discharge certificate and shouldn’t have any COVID-19 symptoms, so staff members can test accordingly.

Authorities on Wednesday also said that they were open to suggestions from the public after the testing kiosks were overwhelmed on the first day.

A retiree surnamed Zhang in Xuhui District told Sixth tone that he filed a complaint about the long wait time through the city service hotline on Wednesday. He also mentioned that a few new sites had popped up by Thursday morning.

“It only took me 10 minutes to get the test,” Zhang said.

A volunteer sings a Jay Chou song as people await for their COVID-19 test, June 2, 2022. Courtesy of Lina

And for people with more money than patience, companies are already looking to capitalize on the demand for hassle-free COVID tests. A poster showing a health management company offering door-to-door sampling and promising results within two hours went viral Thursday.

The “VVIP” service costs 3,000 yuan ($449) for each test. But the company said it has scrapped its plan after criticism.

Additional reporting: Fan Yiying and Luo Yahan; editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: People line up to get COVID-19 test at a comercial area in Xuhui District, June 1, 2022. VCG)