Shanghai lifted a painful two-month lockdown, to rest the city’s 25 million residents, during which authorities dismantled fences around residential areas and tore police tapes from public spaces and buildings.
Most residents have spent the past two months under a harsh lockdown that has resulted in lost income, stress and desperation for millions of people struggling to get food or emergency medical care.
The prolonged isolation sparked public anger and infrequent protests in Shanghai, hurting the city’s manufacturing and heavy export economy, disrupting supply chains in China and around the world and slowing international trade.
From Wednesday, life is expected to get a little normal, when permits for residential buildings will be suspended for a few hours, public transportation 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 one resident, Joseph Mack, who works in education. “It’s hard to believe this actually happened.”
The easing of restrictions applies only to those in low-risk areas, or about 22.5 million people. Residents of these areas are still required to wear masks and are discouraged from gathering. Eating in restaurants is still forbidden. Stores can be filled to 75%. Gyms will reopen at a later time.
Residents must be tested for COVID every 72 hours to use public transportation and enter public places. A strict quarantine is still imminent for those who have tested positive for contact with them.
China is the only country among the major countries to implement a relentless “zero COVID” policy, which aims to eliminate all outbreaks at any cost as soon as they occur. It remains to be seen if repeated testing can keep Omicron in check.
Todd Pearson, CEO of Camel Hospitality Group, which operates eight restaurants, four bars and three gyms in Shanghai and neighboring Suzhou, is cautious.
Its restaurants are only allowed to deliver, which is about 5% of revenue, not enough to pay salaries and rent. His workers, who have slept in restaurants there due to strict lockdown rules, can finally go home by midnight at the latest.
“I’m confident they will move things around quickly to restart the economy,” Pearson said. “I just hope this doesn’t come at the cost of more outbreaks. I’m not sure many companies or people can handle more.”
Economic activity in China rebounded somewhat in May from dreary April as Covid restrictions in key manufacturing hubs were gradually eased, although movement controls still weighed on demand and hamper production.
Factory activity was at a three-month high in May but down from the previous year.
On Tuesday, the British Chamber of Commerce in China released its annual position paper, warning that Covid restrictions and uncertainty about the future are having a negative impact on British companies in China. A survey of more than 600 members found that 74% were “seriously affected” by the zero-Covid policy, with nearly 50% delaying investment planning.
“All we can expect is more uncertainty, turbulence, and possibly more lockdown” as China continues to achieve its Covid-free goals, Chamber President Julian McCormack said.
“There is real tension and anxiety that something like this could happen [Shanghai] It could happen again in the current environment.”
The report found that 43% of member firms faced challenges including hiring foreign talent, and 23% had a net decline in foreign employees. 41% expected their employees to leave within a year.
Shanghai reported 31 cases on May 30, up from 67 the previous day, all within controlled areas.
Reuters also contributed to this report.