Shanghai authorities began tearing down fences around housing compounds and tearing up police tapes from public squares and buildings to relieve the city’s 25 million residents before lifting a two-month painful lockdown at midnight on Tuesday.
On Monday evening, some people allowed a short walk from their compound to take advantage of the suspended traffic to gather for beer and ice cream on a secluded street, but there was a sense of caution and concern among residents.
Most will be stuck indoors again until midnight, as they have been under a brutally enforced lockdown for the past two months, struggling to access millions of meals or get emergency health care due to loss of income, stress and frustration.
Prolonged isolation has fueled popular anger and sparse protests inside Shanghai, disrupted the city’s manufacturing and export-heavy economy, disrupted supply chains in China and around the world, and slowed international trade.
Life will return to normal as of Wednesday, when passes issued by residential buildings for a few hours to go out will be canceled, public transport will resume and residents will be able to return to work.
“Now that I’m suddenly back at work, I’m a little nervous,” said Joseph Mack, a resident who works in education. “It’s hard to believe it’s really happening.”
The easing of sanctions only applies to low-risk areas or to about 22.5 million people. Residents will still have to wear masks and be discouraged from gathering.
Eating inside restaurants is forbidden. Stores can operate at 75% capacity. The gyms will reopen later.
Residents will have to undergo covid test every 72 hours to get on public transport and enter public venues. Anyone who is testing positive and still has a tough quarantine for their close acquaintances.
The end of the lockdown brings relief, but fears are also met.
China is one of the major countries pursuing an uncompromising “zero COVID” policy, which aims to eliminate all outbreaks at any cost.
It remains to be seen whether the high-transmissible Omicron variant is prone to recurrence and frequent testing can control it.
Todd Pearson, managing director of Camel Hospitality Group, which operates eight restaurants, four bars and three gyms in and around Shanghai, warns.
Its restaurants are only allowed to deliver, which is about 5% of the revenue, not enough to pay salaries and rent. At least since midnight his staff who have been sleeping in the restaurant, stuck there due to strict lockdown rules, will finally be able to go home.
“I’m hopeful they’ll get things done faster to get the economy back on track,” Pearson said. “I just hope it’s not at the expense of more outbreaks. I’m not sure many businesses or people can manage much more.”
China’s economic activity has recovered somewhat since a disappointing April in May as COVID restrictions at major manufacturing centers were gradually relaxed, although movement controls still reduce demand and moderate production.
Factory activity was at a three-month high in May, but has shrunk from a year earlier.
Shanghai’s new normal
Shanghai reported 31 cases on May 30, down from 67 a day earlier, all in controlled areas. The downward trend in cases can be seen in many other cities in China, with new daily infections dropping from 184 to 174 nationally.
Other countries, which have decided to coexist with the virus even after the infection has spread, are reporting thousands of new cases every day.
Once the Shanghai lockdown is lifted, city life will still look very different compared to those places.
Some banking clerks have said they will have to wear full hazmat suits and face shields as soon as they face the public from Wednesday.
A banking employee, who only gave his title as Qin, said he would take some basic supplies to work if a co-worker tested positive and employees had to be separated in the office.
“I need to get some clothes and supplies to go to the office. Exactly,” Keen said.
The lockdown has sparked rare protests, with people occasionally throwing pots and pans outside their windows to express their dissatisfaction with the crackdown, and many have gone on social media to share frustrating interactions with authorities and other personal dramas caused by restrictions.
The public outcry comes during a sensitive year for President Xi Jinping, who is expected to secure a precedent-breaking third term this fall.
A Chinese flag was hoisted to take pictures of residents at a complex on Tuesday as they lined up for another PCR test before reopening.
“It’s worth celebrating,” said a volunteer worker at the testing site waving a small Chinese flag who was more optimistic about Kovid than blowing their noses. “Probably not for the rest of our lives.”
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and was automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)