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Shanghai ends its eight-week lockdown, but can China do away with 'zero-covid' policy?

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By Rhal Ssan
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Shaghai under COVID-19 lockdown restrictions
Shaghai under COVID-19 lockdown restrictions   -   Copyright  Andrew Braun/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

China’s commercial hub Shanghai has lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions, with public transport reopening and people no longer requiring passes to leave their homes.

The easing of measures applies only to those in low-risk areas, or about 22.5 million people. Residents in those areas will still have to wear masks and are discouraged from gathering. Dining inside restaurants remains banned, while shops are now allowed to operate at three-quarter capacity.

Schools will partially reopen on a voluntary basis, and shopping malls, supermarkets, convenience stores and drug stores are to gradually reopen as well. However, other venues such as cinemas and gyms will remain closed.

Cases are much lower than during the peak of the latest wave in April, and life has been slowly returning to normal even before the announcement.

Yet some areas remain under heavy restrictions, and more than half a million people in the city of 25 million will not be allowed out of their buildings due to testing positive or being in contact with someone with COVID-19.

The road to the easing of measures has not been easy. The city has endured draconian restrictions, such as sealing off whole communities when one person tests positive for COVID-19. Some have struggled at times to get food and key medical supplies.

This led to desperate scenes, like the one seen in a video shared widely on social media in April, showing residents of a bloc who were not happy to discover that a part of their building had been converted to house COVID-19 patients.

Persons in hazmat suits and police insignia turned up, which made the volatile situation to turn violent.

While the lockdown is now over, questions remain on how long the country can stick to its strict "zero-covid" approach. 

It is not an easy decision for China, which has prided itself on having one of the lowest per capita death rates from the disease. Domestic research seems to support the CCP's approach, where a recent study from Shanghai’s Fudan University estimated that lifting "zero-covid" measures could result in 1.6 million deaths.