Hong Kong

Shanghai officials on Tuesday said they had achieved “zero Covid at the community level,” in what appeared to be a turning point in a persistent 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 of 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 on Tuesday that all 16 counties in China’s financial hub have now received the award. But 860,000 people remain under the strictest lockdown level, meaning they cannot leave their homes.

Since China’s leader Xi Jinping vowed on May 5 to continue his zero-Covid policy, authorities in Shanghai have taken increasingly tough measures, canceling food deliveries in some neighborhoods, forcing residents who have tested negative for Covid into government quarantines and disinfected their homes without consent.

But while the strict measures have fueled residents’ dissatisfaction, they also appear to have lowered infections. Shanghai reported fewer than 1,000 new cases on both Sunday and Monday — the first time below four figures since March 24, according to the city’s health commission.

The announcement comes a day after Shanghai pledged to gradually ease the Covid lockdown and bring life back to normal in June after seven weeks of a government-enforced shutdown that caused great pain to residents and the economy dealt a devastating blow.

At a news conference on Monday, officials in Shanghai said the outbreak was “under effective control” as 15 of the city’s 16 districts had stopped the spread of Covid in the community and fewer than 1 million of the 25 million residents were still under strict lockdown.

Officials said the city’s reopening will come in three phases, with the aim of restoring normal life and fully restarting factories in June.

“From June 1 to mid and late June, under the premise of controlling the risks of infection recurrence, we will make epidemic prevention and control a normalized routine, and fully restore normal production and life in the city ‘ Deputy Mayor Zong said Ming.

Supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies began reopening Monday, Zong said, adding that hair salons and agricultural hypermarkets would follow.

Train services to and from Shanghai have also gradually resumed since Monday, followed by domestic flights. From May 22nd, bus and metro services will resume. According to Zong, passengers need a negative Covid test – done within 48 hours – to board public transport.

The roadmap for reopening has been met with skepticism by some Shanghai residents who have lost faith in the local government.

In March, Shanghai authorities repeatedly denied that the city would go into lockdown. Police even arrested two people accused of “spreading rumours” that such a measure was imminent.

When the local government announced a two-stage lockdown in late March, it said it would only last four days and promised daily supplies would be enough. But days turned into weeks, and many struggled to secure access to food and other essentials.

“You can fool me, but please don’t do it too often,” said a user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform in a widely shared comment.

Taking to Chinese social media, some Shanghai residents said they are still not allowed to go outside even though their neighborhood has not reported any recent cases. Others have criticized state media reports claiming life in the city is returning to normal.

Meanwhile, an article on the website of People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, was mocked with images purporting to show reopened restaurants, cafes and supermarkets.

“Although I am not allowed to go out in Shanghai, your fake news gives me a real warmth. Thank you People’s Daily!” said one resident in a social media post under a hashtag that loosely translates to “the smell of cooking returns to Shanghai.”

“Is this 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; until Tuesday afternoon, only posts published by official accounts under this 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 combat phone fraud.

“Please go after the Shanghai government and let them shut up. You lie there with your eyes wide open every day, enough is enough,” said a user from Shanghai.

Others kept their anger at the People’s Daily. “The People.cn is spreading rumours. The Shanghai described in their words is not the Shanghai I live in right now,” said one user.

Most of the comments had been deleted by Tuesday afternoon.

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