The Chinese city of Shanghai has announced plans to reopen gradually after spending more than six weeks in lockdown and stamping out COVID-19 transmission in 15 of its 16 districts.
The opening will be rolled out in phases, state media reported on Monday, with city authorities saying “normal life” will resume on June 1.
Shanghai’s first priority will be resuming industrial production and manufacturing and then commercial business, Deputy Mayor Zong Ming was quoted as saying.
Grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores will be allowed to open this week, as will in-person teaching at some schools, although anti-epidemic measures will remain in place to prevent a relapse.
Private cars and taxis will also be allowed on the streets from Monday onwards, and some public transit will resume on May 22.
“From June 1 to mid- and late June, as long as risks of a rebound in infections are controlled, we will fully implement epidemic prevention and control, normalise management, and fully restore normal production and life in the city,” Zong said.
But the announcement was met with scepticism by some Shanghai residents, who have been disappointed time and again by shifting schedules for the lifting of restrictions.
“Shanghai, Shanghai … am I still supposed to believe you?” one member of the public said on the Weibo social media platform.
Some pointed out that returning to daily life could be a challenge as many districts and even buildings have been placed under a “hard lockdown”, with police and city employees erecting physical barriers, fences, and even roadblocks to restrict the flow of movement.
Police seals on many shop doors also remain in place. Authorities will now need to remove much of this infrastructure.
Shanghai is currently separated into many areas, separated along the dotted lines on this map by temporary walls (often construction barriers).
Crossing requires finding an open street where police will check paperwork. pic.twitter.com/uZRfMEtc9v
— chris pc (@chris__pc) May 15, 2022
Other reports suggested that lockdowns of specific buildings and compounds may continue if local cases are found during regular testing.
One Shanghai expatriate, Blake Stone-Banks, wrote on Twitter on Sunday that his compound has been locked down for a further 14 days because of a positive case in the area. The infection was the first positive in nearly a month, he said, adding that the compound has been under strict restrictions since March 16.
#Shanghai extended our lockdown another 14 days due to a positive in our compound. First positive in nearly a month, so transmission must have been via delivery or Dabai administering PCR. With exception of two days, we have been locked in since March 16. Hearing screams outside.
— Blake Stone-Banks (@blakestonebanks) May 14, 2022
Throughout the lockdown, Shanghai authorities have repeatedly dashed hopes for an end to the ordeal. Authorities said the lockdown would only last until April 5 when it was introduced on March 27.
Instead, 26 million people faced a weeks-long indefinite lockdown that initially led some residents scrambling for food before buildings and compounds organised group buying schemes to circumvent restrictions.
Despite that, China has rejected all criticisms of “zero-COVID,” including from the World Health Organization. The ruling Communist Party says it is committed to “resolutely fighting any attempts to distort, question or dismiss China’s anti-COVID policy”.
China reported 1,159 cases of infection on Monday, the vast majority in Shanghai. Almost all were infections without symptoms.
The lockdown in Shanghai and surrounding cities has disrupted global supply chains as the region is one of China’s most important industrial hubs.
In March and April, industrial production across China contracted at the steepest pace since the start of the pandemic 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 extra importance this year, as the party is expected to choose Xi Jinping for an unprecedented third term as president.