Shanghai authorities say they will take major steps on Wednesday to reopen China’s largest city after a two-month COVID-19 lockdown that has reversed the national economy and left millions of people at home.
On a pleasant Tuesday evening, a steady stream of people was already strolling through the Bund, the city’s waterfront historic park, some taking selfies against the bright lights of the Pudong financial district on the other side of the river. Elsewhere, people gathered outside to eat and drink under the supervision of police who were deployed to discourage the formation of large crowds.
Vice Mayor Zong Ming announced that full bus and metro service will be restored on Wednesday, as will basic train connections with the rest of China. Schools will reopen partially on a voluntary basis and shopping malls, supermarkets, convenience stores and drug stores will gradually reopen at no more than 75 percent of their total capacity. Cinemas and gyms will remain closed.
“The epidemic has been effectively contained,” Zong said. She added that the city will enter the phase of full recovery of work and life on Wednesday.
Officials, who set June 1 as a target reopening date earlier in May, appear poised to accelerate the gradual easing seen in recent days. A few malls and markets have reopened and some residents have been given passes that allow them to go out for a few hours at a time.
In online chat groups, some expressed excitement at the prospect of being able to move freely in the city for the first time since late March, while others remained cautious given the slow pace and stop-and-go nature of opening up so far.
Workers tore down some of the barriers erected along the sidewalks during the lockdown. A few people walked or cycled through the largely empty streets. A man had his hair cut on the sidewalk, a common occurrence in recent days, while a worker or volunteer in full protective clothing watched.
More than half a million people in the city of 25 million will not be allowed outside on Wednesday – 190,000 are still in closed areas and a further 450,000 are in control zones because they live near recent cases.
Shanghai registered 29 new cases on Monday, a steady decline from more than 20,000 a day in April.
Li Qiang, the top official of the ruling Communist Party of China in Shanghai, said at a meeting Monday that the city had made significant progress in fighting the outbreak through ongoing fighting.
Success had a price. Authorities have imposed a stifling citywide lockdown under China’s “zero-COVID” strategy that aims to eradicate any outbreak with mass testing and isolation in centralized facilities of anyone infected.
Huge temporary facilities were set up in exhibition centers and other locations to house thousands of people who had tested positive. Teams of health professionals and other workers came from all over the country to help run the massive undertaking.
Factories were closed or allowed to work only while workers were sleeping on site to prevent the spread of the virus. Reduced production in semiconductor plants contributed to the global chip shortage. Containers were backing up at the Port of Shanghai due to a shortage of truck drivers to deliver them to their destinations.
Through it all, the leaders of the ruling Communist Party have repeatedly expressed their determination to stick to the “zero-COVID” policy, even as other countries have opened their borders and are trying to “live with the virus.” Outside economists generally expect China to fall short of its 5.5 percent growth target this year.
However, the latest economic data showed that Chinese manufacturing activity started to recover in May as the government rolled back some containment measures.
Schools will reopen for the last two years of high school and the third year of high school, but students can decide if they want to attend in person. Other classes and kindergarten remain closed.
The outdoor tourist spots will reopen on Wednesday, with indoor locations to follow in late June, the Shanghai Tourism Authority said. Group tours from other provinces will be allowed again when the city has eliminated all high- and medium-risk pandemic zones.
Beijing, the country’s capital, further eased restrictions in some districts on Tuesday. The city imposed limited lockdowns, but nothing close to a citywide level, in a much smaller outbreak that appears to be abating. Beijing registered 18 new cases on Monday.