By David Stanway and Roxanne Liu
SHANGHAI/BEJING (Reuters) – Shanghai took more gradual steps to lift its COVID-19 lockdown on Friday, while Beijing investigated cases where its strict curbs interfered with other medical treatments, while China continued with its uneven exit from restrictions.
The financial hub and capital have been hotspots, with a tough two-month lockdown to halt a coronavirus surge in Shanghai and strict movement restrictions to stamp out a small but persistent outbreak in Beijing.
Elsewhere, some border areas in northeast Jilin Province reported transmissions of the virus with unclear source. Jilin borders Russia and North Korea, which has imposed a nationwide COVID lockdown.
The curbs have hit the world’s second largest economy even as most countries have tried to return to something resembling normalcy. Many Chinese, from urban youth to low-skilled migrant workers in the countryside, have complained of loss of income, difficulties sourcing food and mental stress.
China’s economy is struggling to bounce back, but the data shows only a sluggish and partial recovery, with companies from retailers to chipmakers warning of slow sales as domestic consumers clamp down on spending.
Electricity consumption by major industrial enterprises in Shanghai rose steadily to 83% of 2021 levels in the first three weeks of May, Ruan Qiantu, head of the municipal branch of the State Grid, told reporters.
The utility will work to avoid outages as demand recovers and summer peak consumption approaches, Ruan said. “We actively respond to the needs of companies.”
As Shanghai, China’s most populous city, aims to essentially end its lockdown from Wednesday, authorities have allowed more people to leave their homes and more businesses to reopen over the past week. But most residents remain confined to their properties and most businesses can only do deliveries.
The Pudong district, home to the Port of Shanghai, the city’s largest airport and main financial hub, reopened 115 bus routes on Friday. Shanghai is slowly expanding public transport after reopening four of its 20 subway lines and more than 250 bus lines on Sunday.
As of Thursday, more than 30 parks had reopened, with visitor numbers limited to below 50% of their maximum capacity, the Shanghai Daily reported. 70 more parks will reopen by Tuesday.
China hopes a new approach of relentless, blanket testing could help other cities avoid more damaging, Shanghai-like measures by detecting outbreaks early.
About 28 cities conducted mass testing on May 26, up from 23 on May 17, Huatai Securities estimated.
Shanghai’s most recent daily COVID case count has been below 300, with no cases outside quarantine areas, as has been the case for most of the past two weeks. Beijing reported 29 daily cases, up from 45 the previous day.
Jilin’s daily tally for the past five days has been in the single digits.
Nearly 90% of China’s population has been vaccinated, but the rate drops to 82.4% among those over 60, health officials said on Friday.
The capital this week stepped up quarantines, reduced workplace attendance and cracked down on people flouting orders. The strict approach has sometimes caused other problems.
Beijing officials are investigating incidents of delayed treatment for patients with serious illnesses and some rescue workers have been suspended, the state-backed People’s Daily said on Friday.
A farmer surnamed Song wrote on social media that his 32-year-old son died in Beijing on May 11 after waiting an hour for an ambulance with acute chest pain. Song said he was told there had been confusion over whether his son could be admitted to hospitals due to COVID controls.
“This practice … caused irreparable losses to a peasant family with only one son and caused serious negative impact and slander on epidemic control efforts,” Song wrote Thursday.
Cases of slow access to healthcare for pregnant women and other non-COVID patients during lockdown sparked outrage earlier this year.
Profits at Chinese industrial companies fell at the fastest pace in two years in April, data showed on Friday, as high commodity prices and convoluted supply chains squeezed margins and disrupted factories.
Auto sales in the world’s largest auto market have slowed dramatically, gamers are buying fewer consoles, and consumers are reluctant to replace their smartphones or laptops.
But things have improved this month.
Chinese electric vehicle maker Xpeng is accelerating deliveries after resuming two-shift production at its plant in the southern city of Zhaoqing in mid-May, Chairman He Xiaopeng told analysts this week.
Tesla rolled out a second shift at its Shanghai plant on Thursday.
Alibaba Group cited pandemic-related risks and other uncertainties for failing to provide guidance for its new fiscal year, and the central bank said it will encourage more lending for smaller businesses.
(Reporting by Beijing and Shanghai offices; letter by Marius Zaharia; editing by William Mallard, Robert Birsel)