Officials in Shanghai on Friday promised to ease antivirus control of truck drivers hampering food supplies and trade, while the Hong Kong government announced the end of a 2-year ban on non-residents flying into the city as its outbreak disappears.
The streets of Shanghai were largely empty despite a relaxation of restrictions restricting most of its 25 million people to their homes. Many residents were still barred from leaving their neighborhoods.
A deputy mayor, Zhang Wei, promised “every effort” to resolve issues that led to complaints about food shortages and fears that the closure of China’s most populous city could disrupt global trade.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government said non-residents who have been vaccinated and have a negative virus test will be allowed to fly in again from 1 May. It eases one of the world’s strictest travel bans, introduced in March 2020.
An eruption that infected about 1.2 million people in the city with 7.4 million and killed nearly 9,000 seemed to disappear. Hong Kong Disneyland and museums reopened this week, and restaurants resumed supper as new daily case numbers fell.
On the mainland, Shanghai leaders are fighting to ease the impact of a “zero-COVID” strategy that closes most businesses from March 28.
Most factories and offices remained closed despite changes in anti-virus curbs since last week that have allowed 12.3 million people to leave their homes.
For a quarter of an hour, a woman was riding a skateboard, and a couple took a picture of a child outside a park. Courier drivers drove past on scooters while government employees in white suits sprayed disinfectant on garbage bags.
“You can only walk the dog,” said resident Isabella Kao, who cannot leave her apartment because nearby areas are in quarantine. “It’s no use going out because all your stores are closed, right?”
On Friday, the government reported 11 coronavirus deaths and 17,529 new cases in Shanghai. All but 1,931 had no symptoms. Shanghai accounted for 95 percent of the 18,598 new cases on mainland China, of which 2,133 had symptoms.
China’s infection rate in its biggest outbreak since the start of the pandemic in 2020 is low compared to other major countries. But the ruling Communist Party has suspended access to Shanghai and some other major cities to isolate all cases, fueling public frustration and warnings about rising costs.
Truck drivers bringing food to Shanghai and goods to its port, the world’s busiest, are hampered by multiple checkpoints and virus tests. This has led to long waits and reports that some shipping companies and drivers are avoiding Shanghai.
Under the new system, drivers will have access if they have had a negative virus test within the past 48 hours, no fever and a “green health code” on their smartphone indicating that they have not been in areas with outbreaks, according to Wu Chungeng, Director of the Highway Bureau of the Ministry of Transport.
“All sites should release them directly,” Wu said according to news reports.
Meanwhile, about 80,000 small businesses in state-owned buildings in Shanghai will receive six months of free rent, said the director of the city’s state-owned assets commission, Bai Tinghui, at the press conference with Zhang, according to state media.
The government has earned 65 billion yuan ($ 10 billion) in “support loans” to Shanghai companies and distributed other financial assistance, the online news media The Paper reported, citing city officials.
Officials said the port of Shanghai is operating normally, according to news reports. But they mentioned daily cargo volume equivalent to 100,000 containers, a decrease of almost 30 percent from the normal level of 140,000 containers.
Authorities enforce a three-tier system that allows residents to leave their homes if their area has not had new infections in the past week. They can leave the neighborhood after two weeks without a case. Supermarkets and pharmacies reopen.
Some residents say they were close to being shut out before a new case was found in a neighboring building and the wait started from scratch.
Kao, 38, who runs a trading company, said she and her partner have spent most of the six weeks since March 11 in their apartment. She said they were only allowed to go to other parts of the city for four days during that time.
Kao said her building is a “control area,” meaning they are allowed outside, but around it is an “enclosed area” whose occupants are confined to their homes.
“I feel that the people of Shanghai are amazed at the current anti-epidemic policy,” Kao said.