SHANGHAI, China – The Chinese metropolis of Shanghai inched further towards a gradual reopening from two months of grinding COVID-19 lockdown, while the capital Beijing maintained curbs that have drastically curtailed movement even as case numbers decline.
Shanghai aims essentially to end its lockdown from Wednesday. More people have been allowed out of their homes and more businesses permitted to reopen in the past week, although most residents remain largely confined to their housing compounds and most shops are limited to making deliveries.
Shanghai officials urged continued vigilance on Saturday, May 28, even though the vast majority of its 25 million residents live in areas that are in the lowest-risk “prevention” category.
“Wear masks in public, no gathering and keep social distance,” Zhao Dandan, deputy director of the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission, told a daily news conference.
Videos on social media showed Friday night revelers, including many foreigners drinking and dancing in the street in a central area of the city, interrupted by the police telling them to go home.
Another video showed a group in the street singing an emotional anthem from 1985 called “Tomorrow will be better,” accompanied by a keyboard player. The police arrived, allowing the song to finish before asking them to go home, prompting online praise for the show of restraint.
The two-month lockdown of China’s largest and most cosmopolitan city has frustrated and infuriated residents, hundreds of thousands of whom have been quarantined in often crowded central facilities. Many residents struggled to access sufficient food or medical care during its early weeks.
In Beijing, new cases have trended lower for six days, with no fresh infections outside of quarantine areas reported on Friday.
The outbreak that began on April 22 is “effectively under control,” a city government spokesman told a news conference.
Starting on Sunday, shopping malls, libraries, museums, theaters and gyms will be allowed to reopen, with limits on numbers of people, in the eight of Beijing’s 16 districts that have seen no community cases for seven consecutive days.
Two of the districts will end work-from-home rules, while public transportation will largely resume in three districts including Chaoyang, the city’s largest. Still, restaurant dining remains banned city-wide.
While nationwide case numbers are improving, China’s strict adherence to zero-COVID has devastated the world’s second-largest economy and rattled global supply chains.
Investors have been worried about the lack of a roadmap for exiting from what has been a signature policy of President Xi Jinping.
The economic impact was evident in data released on Friday showing that April profits at industrial firms fell an annual 8.5%, their fastest drop in two years.
China’s approach, which Beijing said is needed to save lives and prevent its health system from being overwhelmed, has been challenged by the hard-to-contain Omicron variant.
The conflict between vanquishing the spread of COVID and supporting the economy comes amid a politically sensitive year, with Xi expected to secure an unprecedented third leadership term at a congress of the ruling Communist Party in the autumn.
During an emergency meeting on Wednesday, Premier Li Keqiang acknowledged weak growth and said economic difficulties had been worse in some aspects than in 2020 when China was initially hit by COVID-19. His remarks prompted market expectations of further economic support measures.
On Friday, Shanghai’s suburban Fengxian district cancelled a requirement for residents to have a pass to go out.
The state-run Shanghai Securities News reported modest steps towards return to normal for the financial sector, with the more than 10,000 bankers and traders who have been living and working in their offices since the start of lockdown gradually returning home.
The country on Saturday reported 362 daily coronavirus cases, down from 444 a day earlier. In Beijing, new Friday infections fell to 24 from 29.
While Shanghai officials reported one community-level case in its Songjiang district, they expressed confidence in the measures they were taking to trace and control the infection chain.
“If these measures are implemented effectively, we can prevent a rebound of the epidemic even if there are sporadic cases, so don’t worry,” said Sun Xiaodong, deputy director of the Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention. – Rappler.com