Coronavirus: Shanghai’s symptomatic cases fall to single digit as city resumes public transport and prepares to ease citywide lockdown

·4-min read

Shanghai will let more than 22 million residents living in low-risk areas freely leave their compounds and fully resume public transport on June 1, in an effort to revive the local economy as it drastically relaxes a two-month citywide lockdown.

The municipal government will also allow private cars on the roads from Wednesday, according to a statement published on Monday evening.

“We must do well in guarding against the coronavirus under a normal virus prevention mode,” Shanghai Communist Party boss Li Qiang said on Monday. “Normal life and running of smooth business have to be restored.”

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The announcement marked an official end to the lockdown that started on April 1, which upended livelihoods, strained global supply chains and forced businesses as far away as Japan and Europe to suspend production. It also threatened to weigh on China’s economic growth, which has already weakened to the slowest pace in decades.

Shoppers queuing for the Hermes outlet at Hang Lung Properties’ Hang Lung Plaza, which reopened in Shanghai on Sunday, May 29, 2022. Photo: AP
Shoppers queuing for the Hermes outlet at Hang Lung Properties’ Hang Lung Plaza, which reopened in Shanghai on Sunday, May 29, 2022. Photo: AP

“It has been a long wait since the city’s 25 million residents were expecting an end to the lockdown,” said Zhang Yixiang, a restaurant owner in Pudong. “Now we hope that our businesses return to normal as soon as possible.”

New cases fell for the ninth straight day, plummeting by 45.1 per cent to 67 in the past 24 hours, according to data released on Monday morning. Six infected people showed symptoms, compared with 29 a day earlier, while the death toll stayed zero for the third day.

One community infection was found in the Minhang district in southwestern Shanghai on Sunday, and all 53 close contacts with the infected person tested negative while under quarantine, the local health authorities said.

Shanghai’s government said on May 16 that it would formally lift the citywide lockdown on June 1, part of a “gradual” and “phased” process that will eventually return every aspect of work, life and business operations in China’s commercial hub to full normality by the end of the month.

A “white list” in place since mid-April comprising major manufacturers that have been approved to resume production under a “closed loop” – where workers have to sleep on site to ensure zero contact with outsiders and be tested daily – will be scrapped after June 1, as everyone can resume business without obtaining prior consent.

Authorities will allow more time for the food, retail and tourism industries to file their payments for taxes and social-welfare obligations, offering a bit of breathing room for the three worst-hit sectors during the city’s two-month-long lockdown.

Public transport has been partially restored since late May, after city authorities combined Covid-19 test data and vaccination records to transit passes to allow uninfected passengers to board more quickly.

But local residents have been awaiting an official announcement on resuming public transport fully to enable them to travel between their homes and offices every day.

A total 22.3 million residents, or 90 per cent of the city’s population of 25 million, are now living in “precautionary zones” that have already been declared virus-free for at least 14 days, according to a tally released by local authorities.

Many employees with state-owned companies have been told to start work in offices on June 1.

Passengers camped in front of the Hongqiao railway station while waiting for their trains in Shanghai on 29 May 2022. Photo: EPA-EFE
Passengers camped in front of the Hongqiao railway station while waiting for their trains in Shanghai on 29 May 2022. Photo: EPA-EFE

Public concerns about any possibility that Shanghai would backtrack from its plan to lift a citywide lockdown on June 1 have been mounting since last week. City authorities reversed their phased lockdown plan in late March to enforce a citywide clampdown on April 1, which has strained worldwide supply chains and driven many small businesses to the brink of collapse.

On Sunday, Shanghai’s government unveiled a comprehensive 50-point plan containing eight major aspects, from helping enterprises reduce operating costs and incentives to prevent job losses to broader reopening measures, to stimulate the city’s economy.

But business owners said the incentives would turn out to be just verbal support if they could not be allowed to resume operations soon.

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