Shanghai officials on Tuesday said they had achieved “zero-Covid at the community level” in what appeared to be a turning point in a heavy-handed and costly campaign to tame an Omicron outbreak – but many residents remain skeptical the city will reopen anytime soon.
“Zero-Covid at the community level” means infections are no longer found outside centralized quarantine facilities or neighborhoods under the strictest lockdowns – and is a prerequisite for those measures to be lifted.
Zhao Dandan, deputy head of the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission, said at a news conference Tuesday that all 16 districts of the Chinese financial hub had now achieved that distinction. But 860,000 people remain under the strictest lockdown level, meaning they cannot leave their homes.
Since China’s leader Xi Jinping vowed to endure with his zero-Covid policy on May 5, Shanghai authorities have taken increasingly hardline measures, canceling food deliveries in some neighborhoods, forcing residents who tested negative for Covid into government quarantine and disinfecting their homes without consent.
However, while the tough measures have fueled discontent among residents, they also appear to have brought infections down. Shanghai reported fewer than 1,000 new cases on both Sunday and Monday – the first time under four figures 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-enforced standstill that inflicted great pain on residents and dealt a devastating blow to the economy.
At a news conference Monday, Shanghai officials declared the outbreak to be “under effective control” as 15 of the city’s 16 districts had stopped the community spread of Covid, with fewer than 1 million of its 25 million residents still in strict lockdown.
Officials said the city’s reopening will come in three phases, with the goal of restoring life to normal and fully restarting factories in June.
“From June 1 to mid- and late June, under the premise 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 Ming said.
Supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies began to reopen on Monday, Zong said, adding they would be followed by hair salons and wholesale agricultural markets.
Train services to and from Shanghai have also been gradually resuming since Monday, followed by domestic flights. Starting May 22, bus and subway services will resume. Passengers will need a negative Covid test – taken within 48 hours – to board public transport, according to Zong.
The reopening roadmap was met with skepticism by some Shanghai residents who have lost trust in the local government.
In March, Shanghai authorities repeatedly denied the city would go into lockdown. Police even arrested two people accused of “spreading rumors” that such a measure was imminent.
When the local government announced a two-stage lockdown in late March, it said it would last for only 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 fool me, but please don’t do it too many times,” said a user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, in a widely circulated comment.
On Chinese social media, some Shanghai residents said they were still not allowed to go outside despite their neighborhoods reporting no recent cases. Others lashed out at state media reports claiming life in the city is returning to normal.
Meanwhile, an article on the website of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, featuring pictures purporting to show reopened restaurants, cafes and supermarkets was lampooned.
“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!” said one resident in a social media post under a hashtag that loosely translates as “the smell of cooking is coming back in Shanghai”.
“Is that 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 China’s internet censors; by Tuesday afternoon only posts published 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 fight phone scams.
“Please go after the Shanghai government and let them shut up. They lie with their eyes wide open every day, enough is enough,” a user from Shanghai said.
Others kept their ire for the People’s Daily. “The People.cn is spreading rumors. The Shanghai described in their words is not the Shanghai I’m living in right now,” a user said.
Most of the comments had been deleted by Tuesday afternoon.