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Shanghai promises to improve food supplies, trade

BEIJING (AP) – Officials in Shanghai promised yesterday to ease anti-virus controls on truck drivers that are hampering food supplies and trade, while city streets were still largely empty after millions of people were allowed out of their homes.

A deputy mayor, Zhang Wei, promised “every effort” to resolve problems that prompted complaints about lack of food and fears that the shutdown, which barred most of Shanghai’s 25 million people from going outdoors, might disrupt global trade.

The streets of China’s most populous city were quiet despite an easing of restrictions beginning April 13 that has released more than 10 million people. Many were barred from leaving their neighbourhoods. Others had nowhere to go because most factories, shops and offices were closed.

In one neighbourhood, a woman rode a skateboard and a couple took a child’s photo outside a park. Delivery drivers rode past on scooters while government employees in white suits sprayed disinfectant on trash bags.

Yesterday, the government reported 11 coronavirus deaths and 17,529 new cases in Shanghai. All but 1,931 had no symptoms. Shanghai accounted for 95 per cent of the 18,598 new cases on China’s mainland, of which 2,133 had symptoms.

Residential units during the COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai. PHOTO: AFP

Shanghai leaders are scrambling to ease the impact of a “zero-COVID” strategy that shut down most businesses starting March 28.

Truck drivers who bring food to Shanghai and goods to its port, the world’s busiest, are hampered by multiple checkpoints and virus tests. That has led to long waits and reports some shipping companies and drivers are avoiding Shanghai.

Under the new system, drivers are allowed through if they have a negative virus test within the past 48 hours, no fever and a “green health code” on their smartphone that shows they haven’t been to areas with outbreaks, according to Director of the Highway Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation Wu Chungeng.

“All localities should directly release them,” Wu said, according to news reports.

Meanwhile, some 80,000 small enterprises in government-owned buildings in Shanghai will be given six months’ free rent, Director of the city’s commission for state-owned assets Bai Tinghui, said at the news conference with Zhang, according to state media.

The government has made CNY65 billion (USD10 billion) in “support loans” to Shanghai businesses and distributed other financial aid, the online news outlet The Paper reported, citing city officials. Officials said the Shanghai port is operating normally, according to news reports. But daily cargo volume they cited of the equivalent of 100,000 containers is down almost 30 per cent from the normal level of 140,000 containers.

Authorities are enforcing a three-tier system that allows residents out of their homes if their area has no new infections in the past week. They can leave the neighbourhood after two weeks without a case. Supermarkets and pharmacies are re-opening.