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A worker sits along a near-empty road during a lockdown due to COVID-19 in Shanghai on May 16, 2022.

A worker sits along a near-empty road during a lockdown due to COVID-19 in Shanghai on May 16, 2022. (Bloomberg)

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Shanghai is on the brink of meeting the goal of three days of zero community transmission of COVID-19 that officials have said is required to start easing the harshest elements of the city's punishing six-week lockdown.

The city reported a second day of no COVID-19 infections outside government-mandated quarantine for Sunday, and total cases fell to 938 from 1,369 on Saturday — the first time the daily tally has been below 1,000 since March 23. Officials have said they're seeking to stop community spread of the virus by May 20.

In the first step toward a return to normal life, the city said Sunday that shopping malls, department and convenience stores and supermarkets will gradually resume operations from Monday. Drug stores and barbers will also be allowed to reopen, while restaurants can offer takeaway beyond only online options previously.

Still, the reality on the ground for many residents is yet to reflect a marked easing of the lockdown measures. Around 980,000 of the city's total population of about 25 million remain under the strictest form of lockdown, unable to leave their apartments. Many people outside those zones still say they're being confined to their residential compounds, with some even seeing a tightening of measures over the weekend — such as bans on online order deliveries — as cautious local neighborhood authorities seek to meet the zero-community-spread goal.

Once a clear success story, China's COVID strategy has become a liability. The zero-tolerance approach that kept the virus out for much of the pandemic is struggling to contain the virus without more and more disruptive control measures in the face of more contagious variants. The prospect of lockdowns across major cities still looms large, with Beijing facing a growing list of COVID restrictions.

The economy has also taken a big hit. Data Monday showed the industrial and consumer sectors at their weakest levels since early 2020 as millions of residents were confined to their homes and factories were forced to halt production. Retail sales contracted 11.1% and the unemployment rate climbed to 6.1%, higher than the forecast of 6%.

Shanghai aims to fully resume normal life and production by mid- to late-June, Vice Mayor Zong Ming said at a briefing Monday. The city will gradually allow taxis and private cars on the roads in some areas from today, while resuming train and bus services from May 22.

In another sign the crisis is easing, Shanghai has started to shut some of the makeshift hospitals built at the beginning of the outbreak. Five of the city's 10 major makeshift COVID hospitals have been idled, while many of the 37,000 medical staff sent to Shanghai since March to bolster the city's COVID testing capacity have returned home.

Meanwhile, Beijing reported 39 new cases for Monday, down from 54 on Sunday. The city will start another three rounds of mass testing in a dozen districts as infections continue to emerge from outside the areas that are deemed high risk and already under quarantine. On Sunday, all public transport and car-hailing services were ordered suspended in the Fangshan district, where 12 infections were found Saturday. Residents there and in Chaoyang, Shunyi and Fengtai were asked to work from home. The city will conduct three rounds of testing in 12 of its 16 districts from Monday.

Officials have denied Beijing will be locked down amid growing concern the response to a persistent outbreak is about to be intensified. It's already very quiet, even on what were once the city's busiest streets.


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