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Shanghai eases 2-week shutdown, letting some residents out

Workers unload supplies including boxes of masks in Shanghai on Sunday, April 10, 2022.
AP
Workers unload supplies including boxes of masks in Shanghai on Sunday, April 10, 2022.

Updated April 12, 2022 at 7:51 AM ET

BEIJING — Some residents of Shanghai were allowed out of their homes as the city of 25 million eased a two-week-old shutdown Tuesday after a video posted online showed what was said to be people who ran out of food breaking into a supermarket.

About 6.6 million people can go outdoors, but some must stay in their own neighborhoods, the online news outlet The Paper reported, citing city officials. The government said some markets and pharmacies would reopen.

A health official warned Shanghai doesn't have the coronavirus under control despite easing restrictions.

"The epidemic is in a period of rapid growth," said Lei Zhenglong of the National Health Commission at a news conference. "Community transmission has not been effectively contained."

The abrupt closure of most businesses starting March 28 and orders to stay home left the public fuming about lack of access to food and medicine. People who test positive for the virus are forced into sprawling temporary quarantine facilities criticized by some as crowded and unsanitary.

Meanwhile, the American government announced all "non-emergency U.S. government employees" would be withdrawn from its Shanghai Consulate. A foreign ministry spokesman defended China's handling of the outbreak and accused Washington of politicizing its evacuation.

Also Tuesday, the government of Guangzhou, a manufacturing and trading center northwest of Hong Kong, announced a new round of virus testing for its 19 million people. Most access to the city was stopped after 27 infections were found Monday.

The unusual severity of Shanghai's shutdown appeared to be driven as much by politics as by public health concerns.

The struggle in China's richest city is an embarrassment during a politically sensitive year when President Xi Jinping is expected to try to break with tradition and award himself a third five-year term as leader of the ruling Communist Party.

China's case numbers are relatively low, but the ruling party is enforcing a "zero-tolerance" strategy aimed at isolating every case. Some officials have been fired for failing to act aggressively enough, which gives others an incentive to impose extreme measures.

The government reported 24,659 new cases through midnight Monday, including 23,387 with no symptoms. That included 23,346 in Shanghai, only 998 of whom had symptoms.

In Shanghai, more than 200,000 cases but no deaths have been reported in the latest wave of infections.

The government eased restrictions by announcing residents of areas with no cases for at least two weeks can leave their homes starting Tuesday. It said they could go to other areas that also had no new cases during that time but were urged to stay home when possible.

Such "prevention areas" have about 4.8 million people, The Paper reported, citing city officials. It said all but 500,000 of those were in less crowded suburbs.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.