Shanghai eases Covid curbs in step towards ending lockdown

Shanghai eases Covid curbs in step towards ending lockdown

Shanghai eases Covid curbs in step towards ending lockdown

Shanghai eases Covid curbs in step towards ending lockdown

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After a two-month lockdown that confined residents to their homes and battered the Chinese economy, Shanghai whirred back to life Wednesday as a range of Covid-19 restrictions were eased and thousands took to the streets.

Since late March, when the Omicron virus variant fueled China’s worst outbreak in two years, the commercial hub of 25 million people has been closed in sections.

Authorities began allowing residents in low-risk areas to move around freely on Wednesday, after gradually relaxing some rules in recent weeks.

“It feels like we’ve all been through a lot of trauma, a collective trauma,” Grace Guan told AFP.

The 35-year-old Shanghai resident said she went out at midnight when the restrictions eased and saw groups gathered in the street drinking beer, some sitting together on blankets laid out on the pavements.

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“Now it feels like the Berlin Wall coming down.”

On Wednesday morning, commuters trickled into subway stations and office buildings, scanning QR codes that certify they are virus-free.

Residents gathered to chat in parks, queue outside banks and walk by the riverside, with masked customers thronging one of the main shopping streets.

“Everything is getting better, bit by bit. Things are moving forward,” said one relieved office worker, surnamed Li.

The famous Bund waterfront was ticking back to life, with visitors snapping pictures of the famous skyline on their phones.

 

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A day earlier, many of the bright yellow barriers that had hemmed in buildings and city blocks for weeks were taken down.

“It should have been like this to begin with,” one woman out for a riverside walk told AFP, in echoes of the frustration and anger that has simmered in the city over the strict controls.

Deputy Mayor Zong Ming told reporters Tuesday that the easing would impact about 22 million people in the city.

Malls, convenience stores, pharmacies and beauty salons would be allowed to operate at 75 percent capacity, while parks and other scenic spots would gradually reopen, she added.

But cinemas and gyms remain closed, and schools — shut since mid-March — will slowly reopen on a voluntary basis.

Buses, the subway and ferry services would also resume, transport officials said.

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Taxi services and private cars will be allowed in low-risk areas, permitting people to visit friends and family outside their district.

“This is a moment that we have been looking forward to for a long time,” the Shanghai municipal government said in a statement on social media.

More than half a million still remained under restrictions as of Wednesday, according to the authorities.

 

– ‘New normal’ –

 

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The stringent curbs in Shanghai — home to the busiest container port in the world — had hammered the economy, starving businesses and snarling supply chains in China and abroad.

Read more: Shanghai’s lockdown has been lifted, but people are concerned that COVID limits may be reinstated

Signs of resentment and anger among residents emerged throughout the lockdown.

The city government has warned that the situation is still not normal, and businesses said there were many uncertainties.

“It remains to (be seen) how this new normal will look,” said Bettina Schoen-Behanzin, chair of the Shanghai chapter at the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.

“If there is a positive case in your office or site, in your compound, what happens?”

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China has persisted with a zero-Covid strategy, which involves rapid lockdowns, mass testing and long quarantines to try and eliminate infections.

But the economic costs have mounted, and the Shanghai government said “the task of accelerating economic and social recovery is becoming increasingly urgent”.

While the easing will allow many factories and businesses to resume operations, there are concerns that the recovery will not be immediate.

“I definitely have some worries, things are beyond your control… You can’t tell with a pandemic,” said cafe owner Chen Ribin.

In Beijing, which has also been subject to strict controls to stamp out a cluster of cases, there were protests Wednesday on the outskirts of the capital as commuters demanded to be let in.

Because of Covid fears, Beijing has restricted people’s access to and from the capital.

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Crowds in the town of Yanjiao chanted and shouted claims that police had beaten people in videos shared on social media and verified by AFP Factcheck.

Read more: Chinese economy growing but virus stalks outlook

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