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Beijing and Shanghai ease Covid restrictions as outbreaks fade

Residents wearing face masks walk through a reopened shopping mall decorated with colourful flowers in Beijing (Andy Wong/AP)
Residents wearing face masks walk through a reopened shopping mall decorated with colourful flowers in Beijing (Andy Wong/AP)

Shoppers returned to the malls of Beijing on Sunday as the Chinese capital relaxed pandemic restrictions after declaring a small but persistent Covid-19 outbreak effectively under control.

A partial reopening of stores and offices in Beijing was welcomed by weary residents and struggling shopkeepers eager for life to return to normal.

Coupled with a gradual easing of restrictions in Shanghai, it signalled that the worst is over in the twin outbreaks in China’s most prominent cities.

Virus Outbreak China
Residents wearing face masks take their children to a reopened mall in Beijing (Andy Wong/AP)

The lockdowns and other restrictions under China’s “zero-Covid” strategy have increasingly frustrated residents as they saw other countries ease curbs and reopen their borders.

Some have resisted and staged protests at apartment complexes and university dormitories, in an authoritarian country where people think twice about speaking out publicly because of possible repercussions.

Restaurants remain closed in Beijing, except for takeaways and deliveries, and many people in Shanghai can still only go out with special passes and for a limited time period, even as the number of new cases has plummeted.

Officials tend to err on the side of caution under a system that readily punishes them for lax enforcement if outbreaks flare up or come back.

China recorded 293 new cases on Saturday, of which 78 were among people who had arrived from overseas. Shanghai had the most non-imported cases, with 122 and Beijing 21 among a population of more than 20 million people in both cities.

Virus Outbreak China
Workers wearing face masks clean a fashion boutique inside a shopping centre in Beijing (Andy Wong/AP)

Beijing allowed public parks, gyms and cinemas to reopen on Sunday, all at 50% of their capacity. A portion of the Great Wall in a rural part of Beijing, about 40 miles (60km) from the city centre, reopens to visitors on Monday.

City spokesman Xu Hejian said on Saturday that sporadic cases are still being found in some districts, but they are within a controllable range.

“This round of outbreak has been put under effective control,” he said.