Shanghai eased a range of Covid-19 restrictions on Wednesday in a step towards returning to normal after a two-month lockdown that confined residents of the megacity to their homes and battered China’s economy.

The commercial hub of 25 million people was closed down in sections from late March, when the Omicron virus variant fuelled China’s worst outbreak since Covid first took hold in 2020.

A health worker walks past people waiting for a Covid test in the Jing’an district of Shanghai on June 1, 2022, after the end of the lockdown that kept the city two months with heavy-handed restrictions. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

After some rules were gradually relaxed over the past few weeks, authorities on Wednesday began allowing residents in areas deemed low-risk to move around the city freely.

“This is a moment that we have been looking forward to for a long time,” the Shanghai municipal government said in a statement on social media.

“Because of the impact of the epidemic, Shanghai, a megacity, entered an unprecedented period of silence.”

On Wednesday morning, people were seen travelling on Shanghai’s subway and heading to office buildings, while some shops were preparing to open.

A day earlier, bright yellow barriers that had hemmed in buildings and city blocks for weeks were taken down in many areas.

The restrictions had hammered the economy of the city, snarling supply chains in China and abroad, and signs of resentment among residents emerged throughout the lockdown.

Deputy Mayor Zong Ming told reporters Tuesday that the easing will impact about 22 million people in the city.

Malls, convenience stores, pharmacies and beauty salons will be allowed to operate at 75 percent capacity, while parks and other scenic spots will gradually reopen, she added. 

But cinemas and gyms remain closed, and schools — shut since mid-March — will slowly reopen on a voluntary basis.

Buses, subway and ferry services will also resume, transport officials said.

Taxi services and private cars will also be allowed in low-risk areas, permitting people to visit friends and family outside their district.

Not normal yet

But the city government warned that the situation was not yet normal.

“At present, there is still no room for relaxation in consolidating the achievements of epidemic prevention and control,” it said.

China has persisted with a zero-Covid strategy, which involves rapid lockdowns, mass testing and long quarantines to try and completely eliminate infections.

But the economic costs of that policy have mounted, and the Shanghai government said Wednesday that “the task of accelerating economic and social recovery is becoming increasingly urgent”.

E-commerce professional Chen Ying said ahead of the easing that she still planned to work from home but might treat her two-year-old son to a long-awaited walk outside.

“We should have been free to begin with, so don’t expect me to be deeply grateful now they’ve given it back to us,” she told AFP.

Factories and businesses were also set to restart work after being dormant for weeks.

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