By David Stanway and Martin Quin Pollard
SHANGHAI/BEJING (Reuters) – Shanghai on Tuesday hit the long-awaited milestone of three consecutive days without new COVID-19 cases outside quarantine zones, but most residents still have to put up with confinement for a while before a return to more normal can take life.
For other cities in China that have been in lockdown, a third day with no new cases in the community usually means “zero COVID” status and the start of the lifting of restrictions.
The commercial hub of 25 million on Monday laid out its clearest timeline yet for ending a lockdown now in its seventh week, but the plan was met with skepticism by many residents who have repeatedly extended isolation.
“Normality is very far away,” said a Shanghai resident who is still stuck at home.
Shanghai plans to gradually resume outdoor activities, with some shops reopening this week but most restrictions on movement remaining in place until May 21, after which public transportation and other services will gradually resume.
The lockdown should be lifted by June, but residents are still being asked to get tested frequently.
More people were allowed out of their homes this week, with some joggers and dog walkers being spotted. A man was spotted fishing in the Shanghai River.
But high fences remained around many residential areas, and there were almost no private cars on the streets, and most people were still confined to their homes.
It wasn’t clear how many stores were reopening this week, but in a positive sign, delivery apps were showing customers more ways to order from Tuesday.
A social media account of the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily posted photos Monday night saying breakfast spots, restaurants and hairdressers were open.
However, one social media user called the post “nonsense.”
“We’ve been confined at home for two months… This story is for everyone other than the people of Shanghai.”
The post was deleted on Tuesday morning.
A video posted by another state-backed media outlet announced the reopening of an Alibaba Freshippo grocery store and showed about 10 workers in hazmat suits making heart shapes with their hands, but only two people who looked like shoppers.
A sign on the store’s door said customers had to show, among other things, a negative COVID test and a passport showing they’re allowed out of the house. Only 20 customers are allowed in at a time.
Overall, Shanghai reported fewer than 1,000 new cases as of May 16, all indoors under the strictest controls.
No new cases were found for a third day in relatively clearer areas that have been monitored to gauge progress in eradicating the outbreak.
China’s no-holds-barred “zero-COVID” policy has hundreds of millions of consumers and workers at a time when the rest of the world is urging them to “live with the virus” even as infections spread.
Data this week showed the devastation the lockdown in Shanghai and curbs in dozens of other major cities have wreaked on the economy, with retail sales and industrial production slumping in April at the fastest pace in more than two years.
The American Chamber of Commerce warned that COVID controls would hamper foreign investment in China in the coming years as travel restrictions disrupt due diligence on projects. Large companies are also looking at alternative supply chain sources, it said.
The state planner said it will step up support for manufacturers, the service sector and small businesses to mitigate the impact of COVID.
A meeting of tech leaders convened by China’s top policy advisory body was also closely monitored for clues as to how far authorities would go to relax a regulatory crackdown on the sector that began in late 2020 and has weighed on growth .
Chinese stocks edged higher on bets on a looser regulatory scrutiny of the tech sector and Shanghai’s progress on COVID.
TONING IN BEIJING
Beijing’s most recent daily case count was 52, with authorities spotting a few dozen new infections almost daily, despite restrictions gradually tightening over the past three weeks.
In the capital, food services are banned, some malls and other businesses are closed, public transport is restricted and many residents have been advised to work from home.
Residents in some COVID-hit parts of Beijing’s Fengtai District have been ordered not to leave their neighborhoods, state TV reported Tuesday.
In Beijing’s largest district, Chaoyang, some compounds have closed side exits while the main gates are manned by volunteers checking health records on the mobile app authorities are using to track COVID.
Security personnel patrolled the banks of the nearby Liangma Canal, which in recent weeks has become a picnic spot for local residents who are not permitted to go anywhere else. Signs have been put up asking people to “avoid crowds, gatherings and eating together”.
(Reporting by David Stanway, Brenda Goh and Winni Zhou in Shanghai; Martin Quin Pollard in Beijing; and the Beijing and Shanghai offices; writing by Marius Zaharia; editing by Robert Birsel)