by Hector Retamal and Jing Xuan Teng

Locked in their homes as neighbours celebrate freedom, hundreds of thousands of Shanghai residents are finding the path out of lockdown more complicated than the victory trumpeted by Chinese state media.

A security worker locks a door with a chain in a neighbourhood under a Covid-19 lockdown in the Jing’an district of Shanghai on June 2, 2022. Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP.

The metropolis of 25 million people was closed in sections from late March after becoming the epicentre of China’s worst Covid outbreak in two years.

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

But while many celebrated with boozy street parties and shopping sprees, swathes of the city remained dormant with multiple neighbourhoods returning to lockdown on Thursday over new infections.

Liu, a 29-year-old woman in Shanghai’s Minhang district, told AFP her apartment compound had been hastily resealed on Thursday morning after a man in one of the buildings returned an “abnormal” Covid test result.

She said shocked neighbours bombarded the compound’s group chats with complaints that the lockdown was “never-ending”, while many waited at the gate for couriers to deliver laptops they had left at offices on Wednesday — the first day back at their desks.

“I had just one happy day yesterday,” Liu said.

Another compound in the central Jing’an district had its gates chained shut on Wednesday night, after a confrontation between residents and officials that was seen by an AFP reporter.

Authorities said more than half a million people were still under movement restrictions, which are swiftly reinstated whenever suspected or confirmed infections appear.

Under China’s stringent zero-Covid approach, all positive cases are isolated and close contacts — often including the entire building or community where they live — are made to quarantine.

One Shanghai manager tried to skirt the rules after an employee produced an abnormal test result. He drove the worker to a hideout under a suburban overpass before being caught by police, authorities said in a statement Thursday.

The manager was “worried the company’s operations would be affected”, according to the statement.

The events contrast with the triumphant reopening portrayed by Chinese state-run media, which ran celebratory videos on Wednesday showing brightly lit skyscrapers and traffic returning to the city’s streets.

The official Xinhua news agency has begun memorialising the lockdown, announcing that it would soon release a documentary on the city’s travails, “The Great Battle to Defend Shanghai.”

But Eva, a 26-year-old Shanghai resident whose compound in Jing’an also re-entered lockdown on Thursday, found little consolation in optimistic official statements.

She said she was told on Thursday morning that her compound would be sealed off again for two days after suspected cases were found inside.

“I didn’t feel this reopening was real in the first place. I had suspicions after all that we’ve been through in the past two months,” she told AFP.

“What if we have more cases? Is it possible we’d be thrown back to March?”

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