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Shanghai eases two-week shutdown

BEIJING (AP) – Some residents of Shanghai were allowed out of their homes yesterday as the city of 25 million eased a two-week-old shutdown after videos posted online showed what was said to be people who ran out of food breaking into a supermarket and shouting appeals for help.

The number of people who were allowed out wasn’t immediately clear. The government said some markets and pharmacies also would re-open.

The abrupt closure of most businesses and orders to stay home left the public fuming about a lack of access to food and medicine. People who test positive for the virus have been forced into sprawling temporary quarantine facilities criticised by some as crowded and unsanitary.

Meanwhile, Washington set up a possible new clash with Beijing by announcing all “non-emergency United States (US) government employees” would be withdrawn from its Shanghai Consulate while consular officers would stay. The Chinese government complained last week after the State Department said diplomats and their families could leave if they wanted.

The unusual severity of Shanghai’s shutdown starting March 28 appeared to be driven as much by politics as by public health concerns.

Deliverymen wearing protective suits carry bags of food at the gate of a residential community in Shanghai, China. PHOTO: AP

The struggle in China’s richest city is an embarrassment during a politically sensitive year when President Xi Jinping is expected to try to break with tradition and award himself a third five-year term as leader of the ruling Communist Party.

China’s case numbers are relatively low, but the ruling party is enforcing a “zero-tolerance” strategy that has suspended access to major cities to isolate every infected person. Some local officials were fired after being accused of failing to act aggressively enough.

The government reported 24,659 new cases through midnight on Monday, including 23,387 with no symptoms. That included 23,346 in Shanghai.

In Shanghai, more than 200,000 cases but no deaths have been reported in the latest wave of infections. The government eased restrictions by announcing residents of Shanghai neighbourhoods that have had no cases for at least two weeks would be allowed out of their homes starting yesterday. It said they could go to any other area that also had no new cases during that time.

Shanghai has 7,565 such “prevention areas”, according to city officials cited by state media. They gave no details of how many people were affected.

People in 2,460 “control areas” with no new cases in the past week were allowed out but can’t leave their neighbourhoods, the government said. Residents are barred from leaving their homes in “quarantine areas” that have had infections in the past week.