In the past week since the lockdown was lifted in Shanghai, my neighbours and friends have felt more tense than ever. New Covid-19 cases were reported this week near where I live, and screenings have resumed. Over the last few days, several residential communities in the area have started testing all their residents, even more frequently than during the lockdown.
A few friends received calls from control centres asking about their whereabouts after they have been out for gatherings or shopping trips. One friend received daily contact tracing calls and text messages during the three days he was working in the office. He eventually went back to working from home, saying, “This saves me from worries! What if I fall sick and bring down the whole community?”
Strict measures still in place
Shanghai’s two-month lockdown ended on 1 June, with malls and supermarkets reopening, public transport resuming, crowds reappearing, and expressways filled with traffic. “Shanghai is back” became a trending search on social media.
However, given the full reopening, “social zero Covid” (社会面清零) is no longer possible. Shanghai recorded more than 140 new cases since the lockdown was lifted, with 23 medium-risk areas in the city put under 14 days of “closed management”.
Meanwhile, residential areas that have been linked to confirmed cases or close contacts have also been put under control measures for seven to 14 days. Some of these communities barely had their lockdown lifted for a few days before barricades went up again.
Post-lockdown life has also drastically changed for those who still have their “freedom”. Besides people having to get tested every 72 hours to extend their freedom of movement, dining in services have been slow to resume, while online purchases and deliveries have slowed down after just a few days of normal operations; vendors have explained that they had to delay deliveries due to Shanghai’s unstable situation.
Even the neighbouring provinces and cities have not adjusted their rules for Shanghai. On 8 June, Zhejiang announced the easing of measures for inbound travellers from Shanghai — my friend in Shanghai excitedly called back home to Hangzhou but was informed that the residents’ committee in Hangzhou still requires anyone coming in from Shanghai to serve a 14-day quarantine.
Shanghai’s economic considerations for easing measures
The “battle for Shanghai” has not yet been won, and people are worried about another round of lockdown. A message went viral recently on WeChat claiming that food delivery platform Meituan and ride-hailing platform Didi received internal notifications that Shanghai would go into lockdown for another month from 20 June. While the Shanghai epidemic control office refuted the rumour, the people’s fears could not be quelled.
Some people questioned: since Shanghai has already been under prolonged lockdown, why not continue until the city records zero cases?
And if the lifting of the lockdown is timed to speed up Shanghai’s economic recovery, why is there a need to ramp up measures again afterwards? People cannot go out with ease of mind and businesses find it difficult to resume operations.
Shanghai’s timeline for lifting the lockdown was set by the authorities in mid-May, even though there were still more than 800 new daily cases in the city. The growing economic pressure due to the prolonged control measures made it increasingly urgent for this major economic hub to lift its lockdown as soon as possible.
As the city with the highest GDP, spending power, cargo throughput and contribution to the central budget, Shanghai undoubtedly has a critical role in stimulating the national economy.
Economists forecast that China’s economy will bottom out in the second quarter of 2022 due to the anti-epidemic control measures in Beijing and Shanghai. Hence, a rebound in the third quarter will depend on Shanghai resuming operations and productivity within the first half of the year.
But if the pandemic situation continues to fluctuate and the “battle for Shanghai” is not an all out victory, this will be a mark on the “report card”.
Last week, Chinese economist Ren Zeping wrote an article saying that stabilising the macroeconomy during the key period of the 20th Party Congress in the fourth quarter of the year is not just an economic issue but a political issue. And so, rapid economic recovery in the third quarter is critical, as it will directly affect China’s economic growth for the whole year, its place in global economic growth, and multinational companies’ confidence in its economy.
However, the authorities emphasised that while the lockdown has been lifted, strict measures to prevent and control the risk of another outbreak are still needed before Shanghai can fully resume production.
Observers assess that the government’s achievement of zero-Covid will be a highlight in the 20th Party Congress. But if the pandemic situation continues to fluctuate and the “battle for Shanghai” is not an all out victory, this will be a mark on the “report card”.
The authorities and businesses have their hands tied, and they cannot move forward at the pace that they are used to, thus they are stumbling out of the lockdown.
Stumbling out of the lockdown
The dual tasks of stabilising the national economy and bolstering the results of “dynamic zero” mean that Shanghai must urgently revitalise its economy without loosening its anti-epidemic control measures.
This dilemma existed even before the lockdown and has yet to ease. The authorities and businesses have their hands tied, and they cannot move forward at the pace that they are used to, thus they are stumbling out of the lockdown.
After 23 years of operations, fine-dining restaurant M on the Bund closed down earlier this year after being hit by the pandemic. In a recent interview with Financial Times, founder Michelle Garnaut said, “It’s a shit time for Shanghai right now, and it won’t be the same at the end.”
But she also predicted that regardless of how Shanghai changes as a result of the lockdown, it will bounce back as it has done many times before.
Given Shanghai’s economic volume, a short-term rebound is expected after the lifting of the lockdown. However, to go back to being the Shanghai that people know, the city will have to rebuild the people’s trust in the government, recover its image of openness and inclusiveness, and regain investor confidence — all this will take time.
Related: Many want out as Shanghai recovers from lockdown | Covid-stricken Shanghai is down, but is it out? | Escape from Shanghai: The sorry state this megacity finds itself in | Reflecting on two months of lockdown in Shanghai | Can Shanghai meet its zero-Covid deadline and resume production? | Why rumours spread faster than outbreaks in Shanghai