Shanghai reaches ‘zero Covid’ status, but normal life is weeks later

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Shanghai hit the long-awaited milestone for three consecutive days on Tuesday, with no new coronavirus cases outside of the quarantine zones, but most residents will have to endure another period of jail time before returning to a more normal life.

For other cities under lockdown in China, the third day with no new cases in the community usually means a “zero Covid” status and the beginning of the lifting of restrictions.

The 25 million trade hub on Monday set the clearest timeline ever to emerge from a lockdown in its seventh week, but the plan has been skeptical of many residents, who have seen the isolation stretch over and over again.

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Shanghai plans to gradually resume outdoor activities, with some grocery stores and pharmacies reopening this week, but most of the movement restrictions will remain in effect until May 21, after which public transport and other services will gradually resume.

The quarantine should be lifted by June, but residents will still be asked to take frequent tests.

More people were allowed out of their homes this week, with some runners and dog walkers seen. A man was seen fishing in the Shanghai river.

But tall fences remained around many settlements, and there were hardly any private cars on the streets while most people were still confined to their homes.

It was unclear how many stores reopened this week, but delivery apps noted slightly lower demand for their services on Tuesday.

A social media account run by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper posted photos showing breakfast venues, restaurants and hairdressers opening on Monday evening.

However, one social media user described the post as “ridiculous”.

“We’ve been locked in the house for two months… This story is for everyone but people in Shanghai.”

By Tuesday morning, the post had been deleted.

In total, Shanghai reported less than 1,000 new cases for May 16, all in the most tightly controlled interior areas. In relatively freer areas, those tracked to measure progress in eradicating the epidemic, no new cases were found for the third day.

Beijing’s latest daily caseload is 52, with authorities discovering several dozen new infections nearly every day despite the gradually tightening restrictions over the past three weeks.

Food services were banned in the capital, some shopping malls and other businesses were closed, public transport was restricted, and many residents were advised to work from home.

Data this week showed the lockdown in Shanghai and restrictions in dozens of other major cities hurt the economy, as retail sales and industrial production fell the fastest in more than two years in April.

China’s uncompromising “zero Covid” policy has subjected hundreds of millions of consumers and workers to various restrictions at a time when the rest of the world is lifting them to “live with the virus” even as infections spread.

But as Beijing’s struggles show, the challenge of eliminating new outbreaks raises concerns about the sustainability of any return to normal life in Shanghai and elsewhere once restrictions are lifted.

China’s unwavering commitment to a zero Covid policy means questions about the outlook will linger, whatever the economic costs.

Speaking in Shenzhen on Tuesday, the head of the American Chamber of Commerce in China warned that strict pandemic controls would curb foreign investment in the country for years to come.

At an event announcing the Chamber’s annual report, Michael Hart said, “We are very concerned about the ongoing and future investment of US and other foreign companies in China as people lack access in terms of travel.”

“Unfortunately this year the Covid quarantine and the restrictions in the last two years will mean three, four, five years from now, we will most likely see investment decline.”