SHANGHAI (AP) — Traffic, pedestrians and joggers reappeared on the streets of Shanghai on Wednesday as China’s largest city began to return to normal while a strict two-month COVID-19 lockdown was eased, drawing unusual protests against its tough implementation triggered .
The Shanghai Communist Party Committee, the city’s most powerful political body, published a letter online announcing the success of the lockdown and thanking citizens for their “support and contributions”. The move comes amid a steady rollback of coercive measures that have upended the daily lives of millions while seriously disrupting economies and global supply chains.
While defending the uncompromising “zero-COVID” policy of President and Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, the country’s leadership appears to be acknowledging the public backlash against measures seen as violating already severely curtailed rights to privacy and participation in government work will.
In one such move, the Cabinet’s Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism on Tuesday issued a letter outlining rules banning “non-standard, simple and rude indoor disinfection” by largely untrained teams in Shanghai and elsewhere that damages homes and causes property damage have led to the theft.
As of Wednesday, full bus and subway service was restored in Shanghai, with rail links to the rest of China to follow. Still, more than half a million people in the city of 25 million remain locked down or in designated control zones because virus cases are still being detected.
The government says all restrictions are gradually being lifted, but local neighborhood committees still wield considerable power to implement sometimes conflicting and arbitrary policies. Negative PCR tests for the coronavirus conducted within the past 48 to 72 hours also remain the standard for permission to enter public places in Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere.
That measure didn’t stop people in Shanghai from gathering outside to eat and drink under the supervision of police, who were deployed to keep large crowds from forming.
“I am very happy with the lifting of the lockdown. I feel today how I feel during Chinese New Year — that kind of vibe and joy,” said Wang Xiaowei, 34, who had moved to Shanghai from landlocked Guizhou Province just a week before the lockdown began.
Liu Ruilin, 18, said she wasn’t sure if her building’s security guard would let her and others out Tuesday night. The restriction ended at exactly midnight, she said.
“Then we said, ‘Let’s go to the Bund to have some fun,'” she said in the city’s historic riverfront district. “We thought there wouldn’t be too many people here, but when we passed we were surprised that there were a lot of people here. I’m feeling pretty good – pretty excited.”
Schools are partially reopening on a voluntary basis, and shopping malls, supermarkets, convenience stores and drugstores are gradually reopening at no more than 75% of their total capacity. Cinemas and gyms remain closed.
Health authorities reported just 15 new COVID-19 cases in Shanghai on Wednesday, compared with a record high of around 20,000 daily cases in April.
Some malls and markets have reopened, and some residents have been issued passes that allow them to go out for a few hours at a time.
The lockdown has prompted an exodus of Chinese and foreign residents, with crowds forming outside the city’s Hongqiao Railway Station, where only some train services have resumed.
Even as the rest of the world has opened up, China is sticking to a “zero-COVID” strategy that includes lockdowns, mass testing and isolation in central facilities for anyone who is infected or has been in contact with someone who has tested positive.
The country’s borders also remain largely closed, and the government has tightened requirements for issuing passports and authorizing foreign travel.
At least half of foreign companies in Shanghai are waiting until next week to reopen while introducing hygiene measures, said Bettina Schoen-Behanzin, vice president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China. As a precaution, many companies plan to have only half of their workforce on site at a time.
“There’s still some uncertainty and fear that if you have a positive case in the office building or on your campus, you might be locked up again,” said Schoen-Behanzin, who works in Shanghai.
Tight restrictions in Shanghai, the country’s commercial capital and home to the world’s busiest port, dragged down Chinese economic activity and disrupted global manufacturing and trade.
Retail sales fell 11% in April from a year earlier, worse than forecast, government data showed. Auto sales fell by almost half year-on-year, according to the Association of Automobile Manufacturers in China.
Private sector forecasters have lowered their estimates for this year’s economic growth to as much as 2%, well below the ruling Communist Party’s target of 5.5%. Some expect production to contract in the three months to June.
“The economy is really in a crisis,” said Schön-Behanzin.
According to Schoen-Behanzin, the port of Shanghai, the world’s busiest, appears to be operating at 80% to 85% of its normal operating capacity again. She cited data that said the port had a backlog of 260,000 cargo containers in April.
“The rest of the world will probably feel these delays (by) June or July,” she said.
The city is likely to see a “mass exodus” of foreign residents this summer, “particularly families with young children,” said Schön-Behanzin. She said about half of Shanghai’s foreign residents have already left in the past two years.
“People are really fed up with these lockdowns,” she said. “It’s not safe, especially if you have small children.”
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