Shanghai head for COVID lockdown exit, Beijing play defense

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BEIJING/SHANGHAI — Shanghai on Saturday cautiously pushed ahead with plans to restore part of its transportation network in a major step toward ending a week-long COVID-19 lockdown, while Beijing maintained its defenses amid an outbreak that has been raging for a month.

Shanghai’s lockdown since early April has dealt China’s most populous city a severe economic blow, fueling debate over the sustainability of the country’s zero-COVID policy and fueling fears of future lockdowns and disruptions.

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Unlike the financial hub, Beijing has refrained from imposing a citywide lockdown and is reporting dozens of new cases a day, while Shanghai has tens of thousands at peak times. Still, the restrictions and endless mass testing imposed on the Chinese capital have unsettled its economy and turned the lives of its people upside down.

While Beijing remained amid COVID fears, workers in Shanghai disinfected subway stations and trains ahead of the planned restoration of four subway lines on Sunday.

While the service is only available for limited hours, it allows residents to move between districts and meet the need for connections to train stations and either of the city’s two airports. More than 200 bus routes will also be reopened.

Shanghai officials underscored the level of caution, saying commuters would be scanned for abnormally high body temperatures and must show negative results from PCR tests, which would be carried out within 48 hours.

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Shanghai found 868 new local cases on Friday, compared with 858 the day before, city health officials said on Saturday, a far cry from the peak in daily case counts last month.

No new cases were found outside the quarantine areas, down from three a day earlier, health officials added.

The city of 25 million has gradually reopened malls, convenience stores and wholesale markets, allowing more people to leave their homes, with community transmissions largely eliminated in recent days.

Still, Shanghai tightened curbs in two of its 16 wards on Friday. On Saturday, a third district in central Shanghai tightened restrictions on residents and businesses.

Authorities “urge companies to strictly implement safe production, which is their responsibility, especially in meeting some epidemic prevention and control requirements,” an official with the city’s emergency bureau told a news conference on Saturday.

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Delta Airlines announced on Friday that it would resume a daily flight from Shanghai to Detroit via Seoul on Wednesday.

DRAWING COMPARISONS

Most of Beijing’s recent cases have occurred in already sealed areas, but authorities remained nervous and reacted quickly under China’s ultra-tight policies.

In Fengtai, a district of 2 million people at the center of Beijing’s COVID-control efforts, bus and subway stations have mostly been closed since Friday and residents have been urged to stay home.

A Fengtai resident stocked up on groceries at a nearby Carrefour on Saturday, unsure if restrictions would continue.

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to shop more in the next week or so, so I bought a ton of stuff today and even bought some dumplings for dragon boat vacation in early June,” she said, asking not to do it be identified.

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Thousands of residents from a neighborhood in Chaoyang, Beijing’s most populous district, were moved to hotel quarantine on Friday after some cases were discovered, according to the state-run China Youth Daily.

Social media users on China’s Twitter-like Weibo were quick to draw parallels with Shanghai, where in some cases entire apartment buildings have been moved to central quarantine facilities in response to a single positive COVID case.

While unverified accounts from Nanxinyuan neighborhood residents received thousands of comments and shares on Weibo, a related hashtag could not be searched on the platform on Saturday, suggesting online censorship.

“Maybe… except for the people of Shanghai, no one will feel anything for Nanxinyuan in Beijing. However, I don’t know if there are people who will see this phrase,” Shanghai-based director and actor Xie Tiantian wrote on Weibo.

Sun Shuwei, a tech startup employee, told Reuters the situation in Nanxinyuan, just 2 km (1.2 miles) from his home, made him think about leaving Beijing.

“I was very upset by this,” Sun said. (Reporting by Eduardo Baptista, Judy Hua, Laura Lin, and Stella Qiu; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Richard Pullin, William Mallard, and Clelia Oziel)

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