Officials in Shanghai promised Friday to ease anti-virus controls on truck drivers that are hampering food supplies and trade, while city streets were still largely empty after millions of people were allowed out of their homes.
A deputy mayor, Zhang Wei, promised “every effort” to resolve problems that prompted complaints about lack of food and fears that the shutdown, which barred most of Shanghai’s 25 million people from going outdoors, might disrupt global trade.
The streets of China’s most populous city were quiet despite an easing of restrictions beginning April 13 that has released more than 10 million people. Many were barred from leaving their neighborhoods. Others had nowhere to go because most factories, shops and offices were closed.
Earlier, authorities had further tightened restrictions on movement in some districts, and warned Shanghai’s 25 million residents that strict measures would continue until the virus was eradicated, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.
In some districts restrictions were tightened even when they met the criteria for people to be allowed to leave their homes.
“Our goal is to achieve community zero-Covid as soon as possible,” the government said, referring to a target to stamp out transmission outside quarantined areas. “This is an important indication that we win this major, hard battle against the epidemic … so that we can restore normal production and life order.”
The move comes days after people in two other Shanghai communities - Beicai and Pingwang - were ordered to leave their residences for temporary accommodations.
In Beicai, an official notice issued to residents told them to pack their belongings and leave their wardrobe doors open.
They were also told to leave open the front door of their home and their pets behind. Images on social media of people queuing with packed suitcases at night-time showed the scale of the operation.
The number of COVID-19 deaths China has reported from coronavirus outbreaks since the beginning of March is 38.
To say the figure has raised eyebrows would be an understatement.
With some 550,000 cases reported so far, most of them in Shanghai, the official death toll flies in the face of all international experience with the virus.
By comparison, South Korea – with a superior vaccination rate – reported a death rate of about 0.12 percent during its most recent wave.
Applying the same ratio to China would translate to about 660 deaths.
Some health experts quoted in international media have attributed the discrepancy to Chinese authorities’ longstanding practice of focusing on underlying causes of death such as cancer and heart disease.
Videos circulated widely on Chinese social media this week showing busloads of people being taken to quarantine, at times outside Shanghai.
Some residents said isolation orders were being issued en masse and indiscriminately for the sake of speed and efficiency, with little consideration for individual circumstances. City authorities urged people to cooperate with their painful measures to make sure the progress so far is not lost.
Authorities are enforcing a three-tier system that allows residents out of their homes if their area has no new infections in the past week. They can leave the neighborhood after two weeks without a case. Supermarkets and pharmacies are reopening.