Shanghai nears reopening for COVID-19 as Beijing plans to ease restrictions

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© Reuters. Workers in protective suits rest on the street during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Shanghai, China, May 28, 2022. Reuters/Aly Song

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The Chinese metropolis of Shanghai further gradually reopened from a two-month COVID-19 lockdown, while officials in Beijing said on Saturday the outbreak was under control and they were ready to ease restrictions in parts of the capital.

After easing restrictions last week, Shanghai is aiming to largely end the lockdown starting Wednesday.

More people were allowed to leave their homes and more businesses were allowed to reopen, although most residents remained largely confined to their residential areas and stores were largely limited to deliveries.

Shanghai officials urged continued vigilance, even though the vast majority of its 25 million residents live in areas with the lowest “prevention” risk.

“Wear a mask in public, don’t gather, and maintain social distance,” Zhao Dandan, deputy director of the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission, told a daily news conference.

Videos on social media showed Friday night revellers, including many foreigners, drinking and dancing on downtown streets before police interrupted and told them to go home.

Another video shows a group of people singing a touching 1985 pop song titled “Tomorrow Will Be Better” on the street, accompanied by a keyboard player. Police could be seen arriving and letting the song finish before asking people to go home, prompting online praise for police restraint.

A two-month lockdown in China’s largest and most cosmopolitan city has left residents frustrated and angry, with hundreds of thousands quarantined in often crowded central facilities.

In the early weeks of the lockdown, many of them struggled to get enough food or medical care.

‘under control’

In Beijing, where new cases have been on a downward trend for six days in a row, no new infections outside the quarantine zone were reported on Friday.

A city government spokesman told a news conference that the outbreak, which began on April 22, “has been effectively controlled.”

Starting Sunday, eight districts in Beijing that have had no community cases for seven days in a row will allow shopping malls, libraries, museums, theaters and gyms to reopen with limited numbers.

Two of the districts will end work-from-home rules, while public transport will largely resume in three districts, including Chaoyang, the city’s largest. Still, restaurant dining is still banned citywide.

China’s strict adherence to its “zero-coronavirus” strategy has devastated the world’s second-largest economy and disrupted global supply chains, even as the number of cases across the country is improving.

Investors have been concerned about the lack of a roadmap for exiting President Xi Jinping’s signature policies.

The economic impact was evident after data on Friday showed industrial companies’ profits fell 8.5% in April from a year earlier, the biggest drop in two years.

The government says China’s approach is necessary to save lives and prevent overwhelming health systems, but it has been challenged by an unmanageable variant of Omicron.

The conflict between defeating the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and supporting the economy comes in a politically sensitive year when Xi Jinping is expected to secure an unprecedented third leadership term at the Communist Party congress, which will come to power in the fall.

At an emergency meeting on Wednesday, Premier Li Keqiang acknowledged sluggish growth and said the economic difficulties were in some ways worse than in 2020, when China was initially hit by COVID-19. His comments sparked expectations for further economic support measures.

small steps

On Friday, the Shanghai suburb of Fengxian lifted the requirement that residents must carry a pass to go out.

The state-run Shanghai Securities News reported that the financial industry took a small step toward a return to normalcy, with more than 10,000 bankers and traders who had been living and working in offices since the lockdown began, gradually returning home.

The country reported 362 daily coronavirus cases on Saturday, down from 444 a day earlier. In Beijing, the number of new infections fell from 29 to 24 on Friday.

While Shanghai officials reported a community-level case in Songjiang district, they expressed confidence in the measures they were taking to trace and control infection chains.

“If these measures are implemented effectively, even if there are sporadic cases, we can prevent the epidemic from rebounding, so don’t worry,” said Sun Xiaodong, deputy director of the Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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