Most of Shanghai has ended virus spread, 1 million left in lockdown

BEIJING (AP) — Most of Shanghai has halted the community spread of the coronavirus and fewer than 1 million people remain under strict lockdown, officials said Monday, as the city moves toward reopening and economic data showed the grim impact of China’s “COVID zero” policy.

Vice Mayor Zong Ming said that 15 of Shanghai’s 16 districts had eliminated transmission of the virus among those not yet in quarantine.

“The epidemic in our city is under effective control. Prevention measures have achieved gradual success,” Zong told a news conference.

Supermarkets, malls and restaurants were allowed to reopen on Monday with limits on the number of people and mandatory “contactless” transactions. But movement restrictions remain in place and the subway system remains closed for now.

Despite the number of cases falling, national and city authorities have sent mixed messages about the status of Shanghai’s outbreak and when life can return to normal in the city of 25 million, where many residents have been confined. in their homes, compounds and neighborhoods for more than 50 days A prospective date of June 1 has been given for a full reopening.

Zong said authorities “remain sober” about the possibility of the outbreak rebounding, particularly as reports of new infections continue to pour in from centralized isolation centers and older, more run-down neighborhoods.

“Across the city, our prevention efforts are not yet sufficiently established and require all of our continued hard work and the cooperation of the broad masses of citizens and friends … to restore the normal functioning of the city in an orderly manner,” Zong said. saying.

The ruthless and often chaotic implementation of virus restrictions in Shanghai has sparked protests over a lack of food, health care, freedom of movement and already severely limited privacy rights.

Despite that, China has rejected all “zero-COVID” criticism, including from the World Health Organization. The ruling Communist Party says he is committed to “resolutely fighting any attempt to distort, question or dismiss China’s anti-COVID policy.”

China reported 1,159 cases of infection on Monday, the vast majority in Shanghai. Almost all were infections without symptoms.

In Beijing, where a much smaller outbreak has led to mass testing and a building-by-building lockdown, 54 cases have been reported. Authorities have ordered people to work from home, moved schools online and limited takeout restaurants only in the capital.

China’s strict lockdowns have wreaked havoc on jobs, supply chains and the broader economy, with data released on Monday showing factory and consumer activity were even weaker than expected in April.

Retail sales plunged 11.1%, while manufacturing output sank 2.9% after factories closed and those that continued to operate with live-in employees were forced to cut production. due to the interruption in the supply of components.

About half of Shanghai’s 9,000 largest industrial firms have returned to work after controls that shut down most of the city from late March were relaxed, said Fu Linghui, director of statistics at the National Bureau of Statistics. Statistics.

Private sector economists have forecast China’s economic growth this year at a minimum of 2%, well below the ruling party’s target of 5.5% and last year’s 8.1% expansion.

Despite such news, politics continue to drive the ruling party’s response to the pandemic. Ahead of a key conclave later this year, party leaders said after a May 5 meeting that containing the outbreaks would take precedence over the economy.

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Associated Press writer Joe McDonald contributed to this report.

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