Shanghai slowly emerges from lockdown as virus flares elsewhere
Shanghai is tentatively unravelling a punishing lockdown that confined millions of people to their homes for weeks amid signs that its outbreak is coming under control, even as flareups in distant cities show how China is locked in a seemingly endless battle to ward off the hyper-infectious omicron variant.
Meanwhile in the northern port city of Tianjin, a new flareup has emerged, likely set off by an infection from a worker at a cold storage facility, state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing local health authorities. The city of nearly 14 million detected 28 infections during a mass testing drive, after an earlier outbreak in January caused disruptions for global carmakers Toyota Motor Corp and Volkwagen AG.
Further west in Sichuan Province, a flareup is ballooning in the city of Guang’an. It has posted more than 400 infections in about a week’s time.
The new outbreaks, along with continuing cases in the Chinese capital Beijing despite a growing list of curbs, show how officials are engaged in a Sisyphean effort to quash omicron. Success in controlling the virus has been short-lived for months as the highly contagious pathogen pops up elsewhere, sending authorities scrambling to stamp it out once again with mass testing and movement restrictions that come with harsh consequences for the people and the economy.
Shanghai reported a total of 823 infections for Monday, down from 938 on Sunday. That brought caseload for the whole nation to 1,049, compared to a record high of nearly 30,000 cases a day about a month ago.
News of Shanghai’s easing buoyed investors. China’s stock benchmark CSI 300 Index rose as much as 1% Tuesday morning, in line with regional markets.
Government officials in Shanghai previously targeted of May 20 for eliminating community spread for three straight days, the prerequisite for easing the harshest elements of the lockdown and broadly resuming business activity.
Many restrictions still remain. Residents must produce a pass to get out of their compounds and can only leave by bike or on foot. The passes are distributed to each apartment by residential committees, allowing one person per family to leave during appointed hours for grocery errands. According to passes seen by Bloomberg News, most compounds will allow residents to leave twice in the next four days, for a maximum of four hours per trip.
China’s dogged adherence to zero tolerance for Covid — epitomized by Shanghai’s lockdown and other restrictions imposed elsewhere in the country — has slowed everything from consumer spending to manufacturing in the world’s second largest economy. Industrial output and consumer spending slid to the worst levels in April since the pandemic began.
The three-day streak comes after a handful of daily community cases were found during the past two weeks, prompting officials to enact more hardline restrictions such as sending all residents from an entire apartment building to quarantine facilities in an effort to eradicate the highly-infectious omicron variant.
Shanghai aims to return to normal life and restore full production by mid-to-late June, Vice Mayor Zong Ming said at a briefing Monday. Taxis and private cars will gradually be allowed back on the roads in some areas from Monday, while train and bus services will resume from May 22.
Meanwhile, Beijing reported 52 cases for Monday, down slightly from 54 for Sunday. The capital will start another three rounds of mass testing in a dozen districts as infections continue to emerge from outside the areas that are deemed high risk and already under quarantine.
Omicron’s persistent spread in the community has led to the ringfencing of another large swath of residential compounds in the city’s southwestern Fengtai district. A video started to make the rounds on social media Tuesday of an army of workers in hazmat suite spraying disinfectants on the street as they swarm through an empty street in Beijing flanked by residential compounds that have turned up scores of infections in the past few days.