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Shanghai eases COVID curbs

SHANGHAI (AFP) – Shanghai whirred back to life yesterday as a range of COVID-19 restrictions were eased and thousands took to the streets after a two-month lockdown that confined residents to their homes and battered the Chinese economy.

The commercial hub of 25 million people was closed in sections from late March, when the Omicron virus variant fuelled China’s worst outbreak in two years.

After gradually relaxing some rules over the past few weeks, authorities yesterday began allowing residents in areas deemed low-risk to move around the city freely.

“It feels like we’ve all been through a lot of trauma, a collective trauma,” Grace Guan told AFP.

The 35-year-old Shanghai resident said she went out at midnight when the restrictions eased and saw groups gathered in the street with some sitting together on blankets laid out on the pavements.

“Now it feels like the Berlin Wall coming down.”

Yesterday morning, commuters trickled into subway stations and office buildings, scanning QR codes that certify they are virus-free.

Pedestrians walk in the Huangpu district of Shanghai following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in the city. PHOTO: AFP

Residents gathered to chat in parks, queue outside banks and walk by the riverside, with masked customers thronging one of the main shopping streets. “Everything is getting better, bit by bit. Things are moving forward,” said one relieved office worker, surnamed Li.

The famous Bund waterfront was ticking back to life, with visitors snapping pictures of the famous skyline on their phones.

A day earlier, many of the bright yellow barriers that had hemmed in buildings and city blocks for weeks were taken down.

“It should have been like this to begin with,” one woman out for a riverside walk told AFP, in echoes of the frustration that has simmered in the city over the strict controls.

Deputy Mayor Zong Ming told reporters on Tuesday that the easing would impact about 22 million people in the city.

Malls, convenience stores, pharmacies and beauty salons would be allowed to operate at 75 per cent capacity, while parks and other scenic spots would gradually re-open, she added.

But cinemas and gyms remain closed, and schools – shut since mid-March – will slowly re-open on a voluntary basis.

Buses, the subway and ferry services would also resume, transport officials said. Taxi services and private cars will be allowed in low-risk areas, permitting people to visit friends and family outside their district.

“This is a moment that we have been looking forward to for a long time,” the Shanghai municipal government said in a statement on social media.

More than half a million still remained under restrictions as of yesterday, according to the authorities.

The stringent curbs in Shanghai – home to the busiest container port in the world – had hammered the economy, starving businesses and snarling supply chains in China and abroad.

Signs of resentment and anger among residents emerged throughout the lockdown.

The city government has warned that the situation is still not normal, and businesses said there were many uncertainties.

“It remains to (be seen) how this new normal will look,” said chair of the Shanghai chapter at the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China Bettina Schoen-Behanzin.

“If there is a positive case in your office or site, in your compound, what happens?”

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