Shanghai officials said on Tuesday they had achieved “zero-Covid at the community level” in what appeared to be a turning point in a heavy and costly campaign to tame an outbreak of Omicron – but many residents remain skeptical about the upcoming reopening of the city.
“Zero-Covid at the community level” means that infections are no longer found outside of centralized quarantine facilities or neighborhoods subject to the strictest lockdowns – and is a prerequisite for the lifting of these measures.
Zhao Dandan, deputy head of the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission, told a news conference on Tuesday that all 16 districts in China’s financial hub have now achieved the distinction. But 860,000 people remain under the strictest level of lockdown, meaning they cannot leave their homes.
Since Chinese leader Xi Jinping vowed to persevere with his zero Covid policy on May 5, authorities in Shanghai have taken increasingly tough measures, canceling food deliveries in some neighborhoods, forcing residents whose COVID-19 test screening for Covid is negative to go into government quarantine and disinfect their homes without consent.
However, while the harsh measures have fueled local discontent, they also appear to have lowered infections. Shanghai reported fewer than 1,000 new cases on Sunday and Monday – the first time below four digits since March 24, according to the city’s health commission.
The announcement comes a day after Shanghai pledged to gradually ease its Covid lockdown and return life to normal in June, following seven weeks of a government-mandated shutdown that inflicted great pain on residents and dealt a devastating blow to the economy.
At a press conference on Monday, Shanghai officials said the outbreak was “under effective control” as 15 of the city’s 16 districts had stopped community spread of Covid, with fewer than a million of its 25 million inhabitants still under strict lockdown.
Officials said the city’s reopening will be done in three phases, with the aim of restoring normal life and fully restarting factories in June.
“From June 1 to mid and late June, under the principle of controlling the risks of a rebound in infections, we will make epidemic prevention and control a normalized routine, and fully restore normal production and life in the city,” Deputy Mayor Zong said. Ming said.
Supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies began to reopen on Monday, Zong said, adding that they would be followed by hair salons and wholesale farmers’ markets.
Rail services to and from Shanghai have also gradually resumed since Monday, followed by domestic flights. From May 22, bus and metro services will resume. Passengers will need a negative Covid test – taken within 48 hours – to board public transport, according to Zong.
The reopening roadmap has been met with skepticism by some Shanghai residents who have lost faith in local government.
In March, Shanghai authorities repeatedly denied that the city would be in lockdown. Police even arrested two people accused of “spreading rumours” that such a move was imminent.
When the local government announced a two-stage lockdown in late March, it said it would only last four days and promised daily supplies would be sufficient. But days turned into weeks, and many struggled to secure access to food and other daily necessities.
“You can cheat me, but please don’t do it too often,” a user of China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo said in a widely circulated comment.
On Chinese social media, some Shanghai residents said they were still not allowed out despite their neighborhoods reporting no recent cases. Others blasted state media reports claiming life in the city was returning to normal.
Meanwhile, an article on the website of People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, containing images purporting to show reopened restaurants, cafes and supermarkets has been ridiculed.
“Although I’m not allowed to go out in Shanghai, I can feel a real sense of warmth from your fake news. Thank you People’s Daily!” one resident said in a social media post under a hashtag that loosely translates to “the smell of cooking returns to Shanghai”.
“Is Shanghai in a parallel world?” asked another user under the same hashtag.
The hashtag, which has been viewed 140 million times, appears to have caught the attention of Chinese internet censors; Tuesday afternoon, only posts posted by official accounts under that hashtag could be viewed.
Some Shanghai residents even left sarcastic comments on the official Weibo account of the National Anti-Fraud Center, an app launched by China’s Ministry of Public Security to combat phone scams.
“Please go after the Shanghai government and let them shut up. They lie with their eyes wide open everyday, enough is enough,” said one Shanghai user.
Others saved their anger for the People’s Daily. “People.cn is spreading rumours. The Shanghai described in their words is not the Shanghai I live in right now,” one user said.
Most of the comments had been deleted by Tuesday afternoon.