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Shanghai discovers new COVID-19 cases outside of quarantine zones

Shanghai on Friday announced its first new COVID-19 cases outside of quarantine areas in five days and imposed tougher restrictions in two counties, but signaled no change in the scheduled end of an extended citywide lockdown on June 1.

The commercial hub of 25 million, now in its seventh week of lockdown, has slowly allowed more people to leave their homes in recent days and many gated communities are issuing passes for short walks or trips to the supermarket.

But in a sign of the challenges posed by China’s “zero-COVID” policy – which is at odds with the resumption of normal life in much of the rest of the world – authorities in Shanghai’s Qingpu said on Friday they had cordoned off and disinfected several places and tested more than 250,000 residents after three cases were discovered.

Another district, Hongkou, on Friday afternoon ordered all shops to close and residents to stay home at least until Sunday as mass testing is planned. She did not say why she took the action.

“Our district will conduct three consecutive rounds of PCR testing for everyone,” authorities in Hongkou, home to more than 750,000 people, said on the district’s official WeChat account.

“During this screening, all supermarkets [and] Street shops must shut down, everyone should stay inside their homes.”

Gradual reopening appears on track

Earlier Friday, other Shanghai officials said steps to gradually reopen Shanghai were progressing, with parks in the suburbs scheduled to open from Sunday. Other parks could open from June if they meet certain conditions, but park recreation facilities would remain closed.

Two people are seen getting their hair cut on a street in Shanghai, China, on Friday. (Aly Song/Reuters)

A plan to reopen four subway lines from Sunday also remained on track, the city government said.

Beijing, China’s capital of 22 million people, has been struggling to end an outbreak since late April despite significant restrictions on movement as many residents work from home and a number of shops and venues are closed.

But the number of daily cases stayed in the dozens, rather than skyrocketing like in Shanghai. Beijing reported 62 new COVID infections for May 19, up from 55 the day before.

In the capital’s largest district, Chaoyang, a soccer field popular with children was cordoned off with chains, covered with rolls of barbed wire and signs reading “Temporarily closed during the epidemic.”

Nearby, young couples briefly sat together at a canal before security personnel approached with a loudspeaker reminding people not to gather.

Broad economic decline in April

On Friday, Shanghai reported a broad economic downturn in April, with many factories shutting down and consumers stuck at home. The city’s industrial output shrank 61.5 percent year-on-year, the largest monthly decline since 2011.

A woman uses an ATM at a reopened branch of Shanghai Rural Commercial Bank in Shanghai on Friday. (cnsphoto/Reuters)

Retail sales fell 48.3 percent, significantly more than the 11.1 percent nationwide drop, and home sales by square footage fell 88 percent, according to a Reuters calculation.

Analysts at Gavekal Dragonomics estimate less than five percent of Chinese cities are reporting infections, compared with a quarter at the end of March.

Many cities have established municipal border controls, are conducting frequent mass testing, and are monitoring and isolating new infections, including by constructing lockdowns.

This elevated photo taken on Thursday shows a checkpoint on a street in Shanghai’s Jing’an District which is under a COVID-19 lockdown. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

“This new normal should allow manufacturing supply chains to gradually resume normal operations, but will continue to weigh on consumption, the service sector and small businesses,” Gavekal analysts wrote in a note.

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