China’s economic capital, the country’s most developed and cosmopolitan city, was locked down in stages from late March in response to a nationwide outbreak, the most virulent since 2020.

After having already relaxed several restrictions in recent weeks, the authorities have since Wednesday allowed residents of areas deemed to be “low risk” to move freely in the city.

Workers are busy dismantling the barriers that surrounded the buildings, noted an AFP journalist. And onlookers, masked, take advantage of their first steps of freedom.

The famous historic Bund, along the Huangpu River that runs through the city, comes alive with locals eager to take their photos in front of the iconic skyline of skyscrapers on the other side.

“This is the moment we’ve been waiting for a long time,” Shanghai City Hall said on social media.

Many locals flock to subway stations, buses and office buildings to get to work. Others chat in city parks, sometimes forming small groups.

In shopping centers and markets, staff are busy showcasing products, waiting for customers.

– “Not let your guard down” –

A deputy mayor of Shanghai, Zong Ming, said on Tuesday that about 22 of the city’s 25 million inhabitants were affected by this new relaxation.

Shopping malls, convenience stores, pharmacies and beauty salons, however, can only operate at 75% capacity. Parks and tourist sites will only reopen gradually.

Sports halls and cinemas will remain closed and the reopening of schools will be done on a case-by-case basis.

Travel by taxi or private car is permitted in low-risk areas. This allows residents to visit their friends and relatives living in other districts of the city.

The authorities, however, warned that the full return to normal was not for now.

“It is appropriate for the time being not to lower our guard, in order to consolidate our achievements in the prevention and control of the epidemic”, they underlined.

Unlike many countries, China continues to apply a zero Covid health strategy, which consists in particular of imposing quarantines and confinements as soon as a few cases appear.

This policy has prevented many deaths from Covid-19, but has dealt a severe blow to businesses. Shanghai City Hall conceded “that accelerating economic and social recovery is now increasingly urgent”.

– Fifteen cases –

While many factories and businesses can reopen, some remain closed.

“Of course I have some fears. But all of this is beyond us (…) You can’t plan anything with an epidemic,” cafe owner Chen Ribin told AFP.

“Who knows if it won’t come back in July or August? (…) I think it will take us two or three months to regain the level of activity we had before,” he said.

The Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported only 15 new positive cases in Shanghai over the past 24 hours – compared to more than 25,000 at the end of April.

Restrictions had already been relaxed in the city in recent weeks as the epidemic gradually ebbed.

But the population could generally only go out, at best, for a few hours a day and provided they were in a neighborhood without any positive cases.

Many residents have been exasperated by the problems with the supply of fresh produce and access to non-Covid medical care.

Shanghai’s lockdown is the second longest in China since the start of the pandemic. In 2020, that of Wuhan (center), the first city in the world affected by the epidemic, had lasted 76 days.