Shanghai eases some COVID-19 lockdown rules as outbreak shows signs of waning

The COVID-19 outbreak that has paralyzed most of Shanghai appears to be waning, with the number of new cases falling below 10,000 a day over the weekend.

Authorities have begun a limited easing of a citywide lockdown that has disrupted the lives of millions of residents and dealt at least a temporary blow to China’s economy. Many have been confined to their apartments for three weeks or more. They reported difficulty ordering food deliveries at the start of the lockdown and higher prices for what they could get.

China’s largest city recorded around 7,000 cases a day on Saturday and Sunday, down from a peak of 27,605 nearly three weeks ago on April 13. Shanghai reported 32 deaths, bringing the death toll in the current outbreak to 454. Most of the victims have been elderly and many were unvaccinated.

Even as many other countries ease pandemic restrictions, the Chinese government is sticking to a “zero-COVID” approach that restricts travel, mass-tests entire cities and sets up vast temporary facilities in an attempt to isolate each infected person. Lockdowns start with buildings and neighborhoods, but spread across the city if the virus spreads widely.

Many outside experts say it’s time for China to change course. Lockdowns helped buy critical time early in the pandemic, but zero-COVID no longer makes sense from a public health perspective and imposes socioeconomic costs, said Richard Reithinger, vice president for Global Health at RTI International in Washington, DC

WATCH | How Canadians in Shanghai are coping with the lockdown:

How Canadians in Shanghai are coping with the strict COVID-19 lockdown

Stuck at home for weeks, these Canadians living in Shanghai admit to feeling the fatigue of confinement. Food rations can be scarce, forcing some locals to barter what they need. 2:04

“To continue to implement a zero-COVID-19 policy now, including a containment approach and travel restrictions, is almost like pretending that we have learned nothing in the past two years, now only effective treatment options and various vaccines are available,” he said.

But Chinese authorities fear a major outbreak could overwhelm the health system and lead to more deaths, especially among unvaccinated older people.

Authorities in Beijing have closed schools, carried out mass testing of more than 20 million people and imposed targeted lockdowns on buildings and neighborhoods to try to prevent what is still a small outbreak from reaching Shanghai proportions. and require a city-wide lockdown.

The Chinese capital reported 50 new cases, bringing the total to 400 during the 11-day outbreak. Restaurants and gymnasiums were closed for the May Day national holiday which runs until Wednesday. Major tourist sites in the city, including the Forbidden City and the Beijing Zoo, will close their indoor exhibition halls from Tuesday.

WATCH | Lockdown fears trigger panic buying in Beijing:

COVID-19 lockdown fears trigger panic buying in Beijing as mass testing begins

Beijing residents are nervously stocking up on food and supplies, fearing authorities will implement a mass lockdown – similar to the one in Shanghai that has kept millions inside their homes for weeks – to contain an outbreak of COVID-19. 1:39

Shanghai has recorded around 400,000 cases in China’s biggest outbreak since the pandemic began.

Reithinger said a zero COVID policy is a comprehensive strategy rather than one based on epidemiological data. Rather than city-wide lockdowns, China should focus on areas where there are clusters of cases, enforce social distancing and other prevention measures, and step up vaccination efforts, especially among the elderly, he said.