Amid slowing economy, Shanghai to end Covid-19 lockdown and return to normal life in June | China

Shanghai has drawn up plans to return to more normal life from June 1, ending a painful Covid-19 lockdown that lasted more than six weeks, leading to a sharp slowdown in economic activity in China.

In the clearest timetable yet, Vice Mayor Zong Ming said on Monday that Shanghai’s reopening would be done in stages, with most restrictions continuing until May 21 before a gradual easing to prevent a rebound in infections.

“From June 1 to mid-to-late June, as long as the risk of epidemic rebound is under control, we will fully implement epidemic prevention and control, standardize management, and fully restore normal production and life in the city,” she said.

The sweeping lockdown in Shanghai and the Covid-19 restrictions on hundreds of millions of consumers and workers in dozens of other cities have hurt retail sales, industrial production and employment, fueling fears that the economy could contract in the second quarter.

Tight restrictions, which have been lifting Covid rules even as infections spread, are increasingly out of touch with the rest of the world, sending shockwaves through global supply chains and international trade.

Data released on Monday showed China’s industrial output fell 2.9% in April from a year earlier, sharply down from a 5.0% increase in March, while retail sales fell 11.1% from a year earlier after falling 3.5% in the previous month.

Both were well below expectations.

Economic activity may have improved in May, with governments and central banks expected to deploy more stimulus to pick up the pace, analysts said.

But the strength of the rebound is uncertain because of China’s “zero outbreak” policy of eradicating all outbreaks at all costs.

“Unless another major city locks down like Shanghai, the Chinese economy could see a more meaningful recovery in the second half of the year,” said Tommy Wu, chief China economist at Oxford Economics.

“Risks to the outlook are skewed to the downside, as the effectiveness of policy stimulus depends heavily on the scale of future Covid-19 outbreaks and lockdowns.”

Beijing has detected dozens of new cases almost every day since April 22, a strong indication of how difficult it is to deal with the highly transmitted variant of Omicron.

Beijing has not imposed a city-wide lockdown, but has been tightening restrictions so much that last week Beijing’s road traffic levels slipped to levels comparable to Shanghai’s, according to GPS data tracked by Chinese internet giant Baidu.

On Sunday, Beijing expanded work-from-home guidance in four regions. Among other measures, it has banned dine-in service in restaurants and reduced public transportation.

In Shanghai, the deputy mayor said the city will reopen supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies from Monday, but many restrictions on movement must last until at least May 21.

It is unclear how many businesses have reopened.

Zong Qinghou said that from Monday, Chinese railway operators will gradually increase the number of trains entering and leaving the city. Airlines will also increase domestic flights.

Buses and rail transit will also gradually resume operations from May 22, but people will have to prove a negative coronavirus test within 48 hours before using public transport.

During the lockdown, many Shanghai residents have been disappointed time and time again with the timeline for lifting restrictions.

Last week, many residential communities were notified that they would be in “silent mode” for three days, which usually means being unable to leave the premises and, in some cases, deliver. Another notice that followed said the silence period would be extended until May 20.

“Please don’t lie to us this time,” one member of the public said on the Weibo social media platform, adding a crying emoji.

Shanghai reported fewer than 1,000 new cases on May 15, all within the strictest controls.

In relatively liberal areas — those monitored to measure progress in eradicating the outbreak — no new cases were detected for the second day in a row.

Day three usually means “corona-zero” status has been achieved and restrictions can begin to ease. Fifteen of the city’s 16 districts have zero Covid-19 outbreaks.

Beijing reported 54 new cases, up from 41.

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