SHANGHAI - Shanghai on Wednesday (June 1) lurched back to life after a frustrating two-month Covid-19 lockdown as transport services resumed and most residents were finally allowed out of their compounds.
However, dozens of estates are still closed off, many shops remain shut and dining in is still banned. Celebrations have been tempered by fears of a resurgence in cases and another lockdown.
The city's 25 million residents will now be able to drive their cars and take public transport, but will need to have a nucleic acid test done within the past 72 hours. Testing booths have been set up within striking distance of every estate - a sign that China's harsh "zero-Covid" policy is here to stay.
Public transport like trains, taxis and buses have resumed across the city, as have high-speed rail services and flights - days before, social media images had shown scores of people camped out at the airport and railway stations hoping to leave the city.
At the stroke of midnight, barriers were lifted across much of Shanghai, allowing residents to exit residential compounds, while police reopened previously blocked roads allowing drivers to move between districts - previously barred under lockdown rules.
Social media videos showed some residents celebrating with sparklers while others were seen popping champagne.
Curbs have been lifted for about 22.5 million who live in "low-risk areas". Residents must still wear masks in public and avoid mass gatherings; shops can operate at 75 per cent capacity; while gyms will open at a later date.
Sixteen-year-old student Daphne, who asked to be identified only by her first name, said her district of Jinqiaozhen in Pudong has been allowing residents out of the compound, albeit with a curfew.
"I feel relieved and happy to be able to interact with friends from other districts and compounds again after not seeing them for over 70 days," she told The Straits Times before going on a ride around town on her electric scooter.
"The streets are filled with people biking and walking around."
Lawyer Xia Hailong, who returned to the office for the first time in two months on Wednesday, said subway carriages were largely empty, with the floors and train compartments feeling “quite damp”.
“It felt strange seeing the platform staff in protective garb, but at the same time it was nice to somewhat go back into a routine,” he said of his 30-minute subway ride to work.
“At the office, I was very happy to discover that the plant beside my desk was still alive. It’s a poetic metaphor for us, the people of Shanghai.”
But other residents say they need time to adjust to their sudden levels of freedom.
“After being in lockdown for so long, it feels like I need to recalibrate instead of going out immediately,” said marketing manager Eileen Tan, 45, who has not left home since end-March.
“Am I really happy? I have no idea. A bit hesitant, yes. We were in lockdown very suddenly and freed very abruptly,” she told ST.
Her husband, Sam, has said he is cautious about the lockdown being lifted so suddenly because it is still unclear if there could be other measures to come. But he plans to join his golfing buddies on the links on Thursday.
“(And) looking forward to meeting our friends and having some gatherings, so we’re not having a drink with just ourselves anymore.”
Some food and beverage operators, however, say it might take a few days for them to restart business, citing tight supply and a need to deep-clean premises that have sat idle for at least eight weeks.
"It took us almost a month to get approval to reopen our Jumbo outlet in L’Avenue," said Mr Ang Kiam Lian, chief executive (China) of the Jumbo Group of Restaurants.
The group has three Jumbo restaurants in Shanghai but so far, only one has reopened for delivery and takeaways - the other two are set to reopen on June 4.
Employees who helped restart the first outlet in late May were not allowed back into their housing compounds and had to stay in the restaurant, he told ST, calling it "a very difficult two months".
He declined to say how much the lockdown has cost them. He said: "But it’ll get better, Shanghai is Shanghai, and it will bounce back."
State broadcaster CCTV described the lifting of lockdowns as a moment "that not just the people of Shanghai, but also many across the country have been waiting for".
"Let's snatch back the time that was lost to make up for the damage caused by the pandemic," said anchor Gang Qiang.
"Be firm in our confidence, be united in moving forward, believe that the lively, vibrant Shanghai that everyone is familiar with will be coming to us very soon."
China's most densely populated city has been stuck in limbo since late March, when the government had initially tried to enforce targeted lockdowns of estates to deal with a wave of the highly infectious Omicron variant, but expanded it to half the city, before ordering a citywide lockdown from April 1.
The lockdown has resulted in massive economic losses and frustrations after businesses in the financial hub - also an important node in the country's logistics chain - were blocked off from the rest of China.
During the two months, residents had struggled to get food and medical care as the logistics network ground to a halt. Hospitals overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases turned patients away, while others were prevented from leaving their estates.
Hundreds of thousands were forced into centralised quarantine after being deemed close contacts, or having tested positive for the virus. Families were separated with children initially forced to quarantine separately from their parents, a policy reversed after a public outcry.
Offices and factories that remained opened - mostly government-linked companies and those deemed essential to economic function - had workers staying in a "closed loop" on site, with employees sharing beds, or others sleeping in sleeping bags under their office desks. Many are only now just allowed to return home.
- Additional reporting by Faith Pang