Shanghai on Tuesday reached the long-awaited milestone of three consecutive days with no new coronavirus cases outside quarantine zones, but most residents will have to endure the lockdown for a little longer before returning to more normal lives.
For other cities in China that are on lockdown, a third day with no new cases in the community usually means “zero Covid” status and the start of the lifting of restrictions.
The shopping center of 25 million people on Monday set out its clearest timeline yet to come out of a lockdown now in its seventh week, but the plan was met with skepticism by many residents who have seen the prolonged lockdown repeatedly.
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Shanghai plans to resume outdoor activities in stages, with some convenience stores and pharmacies reopening this week, but with most movement restrictions remaining in place until May 21, after which public transport and other services will gradually resume. .
By June, the lockdown is expected to be lifted, but residents will still be asked to test frequently.
More people were allowed out of their homes this week, with some joggers and dog walkers seen. A man was seen fishing in the Shanghai River.
But tall fences remained around many housing developments and there were almost no private cars on the streets, with most people still confined to their homes.
It was unclear how many stores reopened this week, but delivery apps indicated slightly lower demand for their services on Tuesday.
A social media account run by the Communist Party’s official newspaper, People’s Daily, posted pictures on Monday night that it said showed coffee shops, restaurants and hairdressers opening.
But one social media user described the post as “nonsense”.
“We’ve been locked in the house for two months… This story is for anyone other than the people in Shanghai.”
By Tuesday morning, the post had been deleted.
In all, Shanghai reported less than 1,000 new cases as of May 16, all within areas under the most stringent controls. In relatively freer areas, those monitored to assess progress in eradicating the outbreak, no new cases were found by the third day.
Beijing’s latest daily case count was 52, with authorities discovering a few dozen new infections almost daily despite the gradual tightening of restrictions over the past three weeks.
Dining services are banned in the capital, some malls and other businesses are closed, public transport is reduced and many residents have been advised to work from home.
This week’s data showed the damage wrought on the economy by the lockdown in Shanghai and restrictions in dozens of other major cities, with retail sales and industrial production falling at the fastest pace in more than two years in April.
China’s uncompromising “zero Covid” policy has put hundreds of millions of consumers and workers under various restrictions at a time when the rest of the world is pushing them to “live with the virus” even as infections spread.
But the difficulty of eliminating new outbreaks, as shown by Beijing’s struggles, raises concern about the sustainability of any return to normal life in Shanghai and elsewhere once restrictions are lifted.
China’s unwavering commitment to a zero Covid policy, regardless of the economic costs, means doubts about the outlook will remain.
Speaking in Shenzhen on Tuesday, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China warned that tight pandemic controls would hamper foreign investment in the country for years to come.
“We are very concerned about the continued and future investment by the US and other foreign companies in China because people cannot afford it in terms of travel,” Michael Hart said at a launch event for the chamber’s annual report.
“Unfortunately, the Covid lockdown this year and the restrictions for the last two years will mean three, four, five years from now, we will see investment decline, probably.”