Shanghai authorities urged residents to stay at home this weekend, seeking a toned-down Christmas in the nation's most populous city as Covid-19 rages nationwide after tough curbs were lifted.

A branch of the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission on Saturday urged young people in particular to avoid crowded gatherings, due to the ease of spreading the coronavirus and low temperatures.

The Omicron variant is surging weeks after the authorities abruptly ended their zero-Covid policy, lifting strict testing requirements and travel restrictions as China becomes the last major country to move toward living with the virus.

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While many have welcomed the easing, families and the health system were unprepared for the resulting surge of infections. Hospitals are scrambling for beds and blood, pharmacies for drugs and authorities are racing to build clinics.

Dampening celebrations

Christmas is not traditionally celebrated in China, but it is common for young couples and some families to spend the holiday together.

Shanghai typically hosts a large Christmas-themed market in a luxury shopping area along Nanjing West Road, and restaurants and retailers offer promotions to drum up business.

But the spread of Omicron is dampening celebrations.

Many Shanghai restaurants have cancelled Christmas parties normally held for regulars, while hotels have capped reservations due to staff shortages, said Jacqueline Mocatta, who works in the hospitality industry.

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"There's only a certain amount of customers we can accept given our manpower, with a majority of team members who are unwell at the moment," she said.

Skeptic about official data

People lamented on social media that they will be staying inside as most of their friends have tested positive for COVID.

"I originally planned to go to Shanghai for Christmas but now I can only lie in bed," a person wrote on Weibo, China's Twitter-like social network.

Infections in China are likely more than a million a day with deaths at more than 5,000 a day, in "stark contrast" to official data, British-based health data firm Airfinity said this week.

China's national health authority on Saturday reported 4,128 daily symptomatic Covid-19 infections, and no deaths for a fourth consecutive day.

Bloomberg News reported on Friday that nearly 37 million people may have been infected with Covid on a single day this past week, citing estimates from the government's top health authority.

The emergency hotline in Taiyuan in the northern province of Shanxi was receiving over 4,000 calls a day, a local media outlet said on Saturday.

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Taiyuan authorities urged residents to call the number only for medical emergencies, saying guidance about Covid "does not fall within the scope of the hotline."

A health official in Qingdao said the port city was seeing roughly 500,000 daily infections, media reported on Friday.

In Wuhan, the central city where Covid emerged three years ago, media reported on Friday that the local blood repository had just 4,000 units, enough to last two days. The repository called on people to "roll up their sleeves and donate blood."