Shanghai set out plans on Monday for the end of a painful Covid-19 lockdown that has lasted more than six weeks, heavily bruising China's economy, and for the return of more normal life from June 1st.
In the clearest timetable yet, deputy mayor Zong Ming said Shanghai would reopen in stages, with movement curbs largely to remain in place until May 21st to prevent a rebound in infections, before an easing.
“From June 1st 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,” she said.
But the announcement was met with scepticism by some Shanghai residents, who have repeatedly been disappointed 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.
The full lockdown of Shanghai and Covid curbs on hundreds of millions of consumers and workers in dozens of China’s cities have inflicted economic pain across a range of sectors, adding to fears the economy could shrink in the second quarter.
The restrictions, increasingly out of step with the rest of the world, which has been lifting Covid rules even as infections spread, are also sending shockwaves through global supply chains and international trade.
Data on Monday showed China’s industrial output and retail sales fell in April at the fastest in more than two years, missing expectations.
Recent data has been bleak: catering revenue sank 22.7 per cent, property sales by value slumped 46.6 per cent and auto sales crashed 47.6 per cent.
In Shanghai, China's most populous city of 25 million people, no cars were sold last month, data showed, with dealerships shut. China Eastern Airlines, which is based in the city, said passenger numbers collapsed 90.7 per cent in April year on year.
Chinese economic activity has probably been improving somewhat in May, analysts say, and the government and central bank are expected to deploy more stimulus measures to speed things up.
But the strength and durability of a rebound are uncertain given China’s uncompromising “zero Covid” policy.
In Beijing, the discovery of dozens of new Covid cases every day for the past three weeks shows how difficult it is to eliminate even small outbreaks.
The capital has not imposed a city-wide shutdown but has tightened curbs to the point that its road traffic levels last week were similar to those in locked-down Shanghai, according to data tracked by Chinese internet giant Baidu.
Dine-in services are banned, public transport curtailed and many residents have been advised to work from home.
In Shanghai, the deputy mayor said the city would begin to reopen supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies from Monday but that movement restrictions must remain in place until at least May 21st.
From Monday, operators will gradually restore train services and domestic flights, she said. From May 22nd, bus services will gradually resume but people will have to show a negative Covid test no older than 48 hours to take public transport.
Throughout Shanghai’s lockdown, authorities have repeatedly dashed hopes for an end to the ordeal. Initially, lockdown was expected to only last until April 5th when it was introduced on March 27th.
Last week, many residential compounds received notices that they would be in “silent mode” for three days, which typically means not being able to leave the house and, in some cases, no deliveries. Another notice then said that the silent period would be extended to May 20th.
“Please don’t be lying to us this time” another Weibo user said, adding a crying emoji.
Shanghai reported fewer than 1,000 new cases for May 15th, all inside areas under the strictest controls.. – Reuters