Shanghai has achieved the long-awaited milestone of three consecutive days with no new COVID-19 cases outside quarantine zones but most residents will have put up with confinement for a while longer before a return to more normal life.
For other cities in China that have been under lockdown, a third day with no new cases in the community usually means “zero COVID” status and the beginning of the lifting of restrictions.
The commercial hub of 25 million set out on Monday its clearest timetable yet for exiting a lockdown now in its seventh week, but the plan was met with scepticism by many residents who have seen isolation extended time and again.
Shanghai plans to resume outdoor activities in stages, with some convenience stores and pharmacies reopening this week, but with most restrictions on movement remaining in place until May 21, after which public transport and other services will resume gradually.
By June, the lockdown should be lifted, but residents will still be asked to get tested frequently.
More people were allowed out of their homes this week, with some joggers and dog walkers spotted. One man was seen fishing in the Shanghai river.
But tall fences remained around many residential compounds and there were almost no private cars on the streets.
In all, Shanghai reported fewer than 1000 new cases for May 16, all inside areas under the strictest controls. In relatively freer areas, the ones monitored to gauge progress in eradicating the outbreak, no new cases were found for a third day.
Beijing’s latest daily caseload was 52, with authorities discovering a few dozen new infections almost daily despite gradually tightening restrictions during the past three weeks or so.
Dine-in services are banned in the capital, some malls and other businesses are shut, public transport curtailed and many residents have been advised to work from home.
Data this week showed the havoc wreaked on the economy by the lockdown in Shanghai and the curbs in dozens of other major cities as China pursues its uncompromising “zero COVID” policy, with retail sales and industrial output plunging at their fastest pace in more than two years in April.