SHANGHAI (Reuters) – After two months of frustration, desperation and economic loss, Shanghai’s draconian COVID-19 lockdown ended at midnight on Wednesday morning, sparking celebrations tempered by fears that an outbreak could return.
Most of Shanghai’s 25 million residents can now freely leave their homes, return to work, use public transport and drive their cars – a time that for many in China’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, never seemed to happen.
At midnight, small groups gathered in the city’s former French Concession district whistled, shouted “ban lifted” and clinked glasses of champagne.
Previously, the streets were bustling as residents picnicked on lawns and children rode bikes on car-free roads. Dancing pensioners, a common nighttime spectacle in Chinese cities, strutted for the first time in months in open-air plazas and along the Huangpu River.
Political cartoons about world leaders
Shanghai Disneyland, which has yet to announce a reopening date, live-streamed a light show to “celebrate the lifting of Shanghai’s lockdown”. They used a Chinese phrase that also means “ban” that city officials avoided.
Under the lampposts, barbers cut the hair of residents who had grown scruffy under lockdown. On social media platform WeChat, stores announced their reopening plans.
“I walked the dog and the dog is quite excited because it took a very long time to come out,” said Melody Dong, who was looking forward to hot pot and barbecue – foods that are difficult to prepare at home. .
The Shanghai ordeal has come to symbolize what critics say is the unsustainability of China’s adherence to a zero COVID policy that aims to cut off any chain of infection, at any cost, even as much of the world is trying to get back to normal despite ongoing infections.
The lack of a roadmap to exit an increasingly challenged approach to the highly contagious variant of Omicron has rattled investors and frustrated companies.
COVID curbs in Shanghai and many other Chinese cities have hit the world’s second-largest economy and tangled global supply chains, though case numbers have improved and curbs have eased from the depths of lockdowns. april.
China says its approach, a signature policy of President Xi Jinping, is necessary to save lives and prevent its health system from being overwhelmed. Uncertainty and discontent over China’s handling of COVID has created unwanted turmoil in a sensitive political year, with Xi set to secure a third term in office in the fall.
“The vibe tonight is a bit like high school. On the eve of the start of the school year, I was full of expectations for the new semester but I feel a little uneasy in my heart,” wrote one. Weibo user, a Twitter handle.
For two months, many residents of the country’s most important financial and economic center struggled to get enough food or medical care. Families have been separated and hundreds of thousands of people have been placed in centralized quarantine facilities.
In the factories and offices that remained open – including those of Shanghai government officials – workers were living on site in “closed loops”, lying on makeshift beds, with many only now able to return home.
Restrictions have been lifted for around 22.5 million people in low-risk areas. Residents should always wear masks in public and avoid gatherings. Meals in restaurants are prohibited. Stores can operate at 75% capacity. Gyms will reopen later.
Residents will have to test themselves every 72 hours to take public transport and enter public places, heralding what could become a “new normal” in many Chinese cities. Those who test positive and their close contacts face heavy quarantines.
During the lockdown, Shanghai residents staged rare protests, banging on pots and pans from their windows and dodging censors to vent on heavily-policed Chinese social media. Frustrations stemmed from the lockdown itself as well as harsh and often uneven enforcement and unclear communication.
“The Shanghai government should issue a public apology in order to win the understanding and support of the people of Shanghai and repair the damaged relationship between the government and the people,” said Qu Weiguo, a teacher at the school of foreign languages. from Fudan University. on WeChat.
On Tuesday, the city’s largest quarantine facility — a 50,000-bed section of the National Exhibition & Convention Center — evacuated the last two of 174,308 COVID-positive cases that had been housed there. It declared itself closed.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh and the Shanghai Bureau, Writing by Tony Munroe, Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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