Shanghai achieves ‘zero COVID’ status but normal life is weeks away

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SHANGHAI/BEIJING — Shanghai achieved the long-awaited milestone of three consecutive days with no new COVID-19 cases outside quarantine zones on Tuesday, but most residents will have endured the lockdown for a while longer before returning to a normal life. more normal.

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For other cities in China that have been in lockdown, a third day with no new cases in the community usually means a “zero COVID” status and the beginning of the lifting of restrictions.

The 25-million-dollar mall on Monday set its clearest timeline yet for emerging from a lockdown now in its seventh week, but the plan was met with skepticism by many residents who have seen the lockdown extended time and time again.

Shanghai plans to resume outdoor activities in stages, with some convenience stores and pharmacies reopening this week, but most movement restrictions will remain in place until May 21, after which public transport and other services will gradually resume.

By June, the lockdown is due to be lifted, but residents will still be asked to get tested frequently.

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More people were allowed out of their homes this week, with some joggers and dog walkers spotted. A man was seen fishing in the Shanghai River.

But tall fences were maintained around many residential complexes and there were hardly any private cars on the streets and most people were still confined to their homes.

It was unclear how many stores reopened this week, but delivery apps indicated slightly lower demand for their services on Tuesday.

A social media account run by the Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, posted photos Monday night that it said showed breakfast spots, restaurants and hairdressers opening.

But one social media user described the post as “nonsense”.

“We have been locked up at home for two months… This story is meant for anyone other than people from Shanghai.”

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By Tuesday morning, the post had been deleted.

A video posted by another state-backed media outlet announced the reopening of an Alibaba Freshippo grocery store, showing about 10 staff members in hazmat suits making heart shapes with their hands, but only two people who looked like shoppers. .

A sign on the store door showed that customers had to show a negative COVID test, a pass showing they can leave home and an up-to-date mobile health app to enter.

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Only 20 customers can enter the store at a time.

In total, Shanghai reported fewer than 1,000 new cases as of May 16, all within areas under the strictest controls. In relatively freer areas, which are being monitored to measure progress in eradicating the outbreak, no new cases were found for the third day.

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Beijing’s latest daily case count was 52, with authorities discovering a few dozen new infections almost daily despite gradually tightening restrictions over the last three weeks or so.

Dining services are banned in the capital, some malls and other businesses are closed, public transportation is restricted and many residents have been advised to work from home.

This week’s data showed the havoc wrought on the economy by the Shanghai lockdown and restrictions in dozens of other major cities, with retail sales and industrial production falling at their fastest pace in more than two years in April. .

China’s uncompromising “Covid Zero” policy has put hundreds of millions of consumers and workers under various restrictions at a time when the rest of the world is encouraging them to “live with the virus” even as infections spread.

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But the difficulty of stamping out new outbreaks, as evidenced by the Beijing struggles, raises concerns about the sustainability of any return to normal life in Shanghai and elsewhere once restrictions are lifted.

China’s unwavering commitment to a zero COVID policy, regardless of the economic costs, means questions about the outlook will linger.

“The pace of recovery is likely to depend on the speed of normalization in Shanghai and Beijing and how quickly confidence returns to the private sector,” Société Générale strategists said in a note.

“On both counts, the zero-COVID strategy could be a lingering drag.”

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