U.S. State Department orders all non-emergency government staff in Shanghai to leave as Covid surges

Chinese and U.S. flags flutter near The Bund, before U.S. trade delegation meet their Chinese counterparts for talks in Shanghai, China July 30, 2019.

Aly Song | Reuters

The U.S. State Department has ordered all non-emergency government staff and their family members in Shanghai to leave as Covid surges and told U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to China, according to an announcement dated April 11.

“Reconsider travel to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) due to arbitrary enforcement of local laws and COVID-19-related restrictions,” the State Department said.

“Do not travel to the PRC’s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), Jilin province, and Shanghai municipality due to COVID-19-related restrictions, including the risk of parents and children being separated,” the statement said. “Reconsider travel to the PRC’s Hong Kong SAR due to arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”

The State Department announcement followed one over the weekend by the U.S. Mission China in Beijing that said non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members of emergency and non-emergency U.S. government employees could leave Shanghai voluntarily.

The U.S. had issued a travel advisory on April 8 with the same language on warnings about “arbitrary enforcement of local laws” and Covid-19 restrictions.

China is “strongly dissatisfied” with and “firmly opposes” the United States’ “groundless accusation” of China’s Covid policy, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Saturday, according to a CNBC translation of the Chinese statement.

He said the announcement for voluntary evacuation was the U.S.’s own decision, and that the Chinese side has assisted foreign diplomats and consular staff on Covid-related issues as much as policy allowed.

In the last several weeks, mainland China has faced its worst Covid outbreak since the initial phase of the pandemic in early 2020.

While cases have been reported across the country, the northern province of Jilin and the southeastern city of Shanghai are among the hardest hit, with local authorities imposing stringent stay-home measures and travel restrictions in an attempt to control the outbreaks.

Last week, Shanghai authorities eased quarantine measures that had separated parents from their children. This week, the city announced a phased process for easing lockdowns.

The city had attempted one of the most targeted Covid control policies to control a spike in cases since late February, but eventually locked down the city in two stages beginning in late March — in the name of conducting mass testing.

Shanghai is a hub for many foreign businesses in China, while Jilin is home to many auto factories.

“The employees and family members will depart on commercial flights,” U.S. Mission China said Tuesday in a separate statement. “The Department ordered the departure due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.”