The Chinese city of Shanghai has announced plans to gradually reopen its doors after spending more than six weeks in lockdown and eliminating COVID-19 transmission in 15 of its 16 districts.
On Monday, state media reported that the opening would begin in phases, with city authorities saying “normal life” would resume on June 1.
Shanghai Vice Mayor Cong Ming was quoted as saying that the first priority for Shanghai would be the resumption of industrial production, manufacturing and then business.
Grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores will be allowed to open this week, as will in-person tutoring in some schools, although anti-epidemic measures will remain in place to prevent relapse.
Private cars and taxis will also be allowed to take to the streets from Monday onwards, and some public transportation will resume on May 22.
“From June 1 to mid-to-late June, as long as the risks of a rebound in infection are controlled, we will fully implement epidemic prevention and control, normalize management, and fully restore production and normal life in the city,” Zong said.
But the announcement was met with skepticism by some Shanghainese residents, who have repeatedly been disappointed by shifting timetables for lifting restrictions.
“Shanghai, Shanghai… am I still supposed to believe you?” Said an audience member on the Weibo social media platform.
Some noted that returning to daily life can be a challenge as many areas and even buildings have been placed under a “strict lockdown”, with police and city personnel erecting physical barriers, fences and even roadblocks to restrict the flow of movement.
Police seals on many store doors also remained in place. The authorities will now need to remove much of this infrastructure.
Shanghai is currently divided into many districts, separated along the dotted lines on this map by temporary walls (often building barriers).
Crossing requires finding an open street where the police will check papers. pic.twitter.com/uZRfMEtc9v
– Chris Pacey (@chris__pc) May 15 2022
Other reports have suggested that the closures of certain buildings and complexes may continue if local cases are found during regular testing.
Blake Stone Banks, an expat in Shanghai, wrote on Twitter on Sunday that his compound is closed for another 14 days due to a positive case in the area. He noted that the infection was the first positive case in nearly a month, adding that the complex has been under strict restrictions since March 16.
# Shanghai We extended our closure another 14 days due to the positivity in our pool. First positive appears in about a month, so transmission should be by delivery or Dabai running PCR. Except for two days, we have been locked up since March 16th. Hearing screams outside.
– Blakestonebanks May 14, 2022
Throughout the lockdown, Shanghai authorities have repeatedly dashed hopes for an end to the ordeal. Authorities said the lockdown would last until April 5 when it was put in place on March 27.
Instead, 26 million people faced an indefinite week-long shutdown that initially led to some residents scrambling for food before buildings and complexes organized mass purchasing schemes to circumvent the restrictions.
Despite this, China has rejected all criticism of “zero COVID”, including from the World Health Organization. The ruling Communist Party says it is committed to “fighting any attempts to smear, question or reject China’s anti-COVID policy”.
China reported 1,159 cases on Monday, the vast majority in Shanghai. Almost all infections were asymptomatic.
The lockdown in Shanghai and surrounding cities has disrupted global supply chains as the region is one of the most important industrial centers in China.
In March and April, industrial production across China contracted at the fastest pace since the start of the epidemic in early 2020.
China is not expected to lift its controversial “zero COVID” policy before the upcoming 20th National Party Congress in October when the Communist Party sets its five-year policy goals.
The event carries added significance this year, as the party is expected to choose Xi Jinping for an unprecedented third term as president.