SHANGHAI (AP) – Shanghai residents visited the Bund embankment and ate and drank in police-patrolled streets on Wednesday morning as people in China’s largest city relished the mitigation of the brutal two-month closure of COVID-19.
The blockade has halted the national economy and largely detained millions of people in their homes, while its ruthless and often chaotic implementation has sparked protests in person and online, rare under China’s strict authoritarian rule.
On Wednesday, the full bus and subway will be restored, as well as major rail links with the rest of China. However, more than half a million people in the city of 25 million are still behind closed doors or in certain control zones because cases of the virus are still being detected.
The government says all restrictions will be phased out, but local district committees still have significant powers to pursue sometimes conflicting and arbitrary policies.
This did not stop people from gathering on the streets to eat and drink under police surveillance, deployed to prevent the formation of large crowds.
Cao Yue, who works in the affected travel industry, said it was gratifying to see “a lot of happy people around me on the street”.
Cao said the last two months of closure were a depressing experience.
“At the beginning of the closure, it was hard on my heart because I didn’t know what to do, and at first it was hard to buy food,” she said. “It was very depressing to be locked up at home and see the whole of Shanghai behind closed doors.”
Lou Kesin, a high school graduate who visited the Bund for the first time since late March, said she was crazy about being trapped at home for so long. “I’m very happy, extremely happy, all the way, too happy,” she said.
Schools will partially open on a voluntary basis, and shopping malls, supermarkets, shops and drugstores will open gradually at no more than 75% of total capacity. Cinemas and gyms will remain closed.
On Wednesday, health authorities reported only 15 new cases of COVID-19 in Shanghai, up from a record high of 20,000 daily cases in April. In recent days, government officials have been ready to speed up what was a gradual easing of closure.
Several shopping malls and markets have reopened, and some residents have been issued passes that allow them to go out for several hours at a time.
The blockade led to an outflow of Chinese and foreign residents, and crowds formed near Hongqiao City Railway Station, where only some train traffic was restored.
Although the rest of the world has opened up, China is adhering to its “zero COVID” strategy, which requires blocking, mass testing, and isolating in centralized facilities anyone who is infected or has been in contact with someone who has had a positive outcome.