Shanghai “reopens” where 25 million people walk free. But the shock of the lockdown continues

Shanghai on Wednesday celebrated its long-awaited explosion of life, as the government lifted its citywide lockdown. But the reopening process is likely to be slow and painful, as residents of the financial center have suffered the shock of the past two months.

For Henry Shea, the 30-year-old photographer who ventured outside his community on a Tuesday afternoon, the first thing that struck him was the noise around the city.

“The city was really quiet as everyone stayed home. Now, the noise is back from the cars cruising through the streets and the loud people – I feel like I’ve just woken up from a long slumber.”

As of Wednesday morning, most of the city’s 25 million residents are free to leave their communities, stores and office buildings can reopen, cars are back on the streets, and subways and buses have resumed services.

But for some, there is a lingering feeling of bitterness, sadness and anger – after witnessing the suffering and pain inflicted on the city by the enthusiastic implementation of the government’s Covid-free policy.

The chaotic shutdown has caused widespread food shortages and delayed medical care for emergency patients. Young children have been separated from their parents in quarantine.

Residents, including the elderly, were forced to move to elaborate temporary isolation facilities and forced to hand over their keys to disinfect their homes. The crackdown has sparked wave after wave of outrage, eroding public confidence in the Shanghai government.

“The ridiculous drama is over and no one has come forward to explain it, no one has apologized to the lives humiliated, hurt and lost, and no one has been held accountable,” a Shanghai resident wrote in a letter. Share widely on WeChat, a Chinese social media platform.

“The lobster is back, the beer is back, but the sense of safety is gone,” the post, which was later censored, said.

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The restrictions have upended businesses in nearly every sector and brought the city’s economy to a standstill. Several companies have been forced to temporarily suspend production, and others have suggested that they may not recover.

While the lockdown has mostly been lifted, some Covid restrictions remain part of daily life. Most public places and transportation still require a negative Covid test within 72 hours, and long queues formed at testing sites outside apartment complexes throughout Wednesday.

A barber cuts a boy's hair on a street in Shanghai on Wednesday.

For the first time in two months, photographer Xi took a bus to the Bund, Shanghai’s famous waterfront along the Huangpu River. Families outside were enjoying a picnic with children running around – most of them still wearing masks.

In the quaint Lujiazui financial district, restaurants remained closed at lunchtime, and offices were still largely empty — many companies only asked workers to return to the office next week, Shi said. Unable to find a restaurant for dinner, he settled on a bar of dark chocolate, some rice cakes, and a can of beer for lunch.

To Xi, Shanghai’s exit from lockdown looked very different from Wuhan, which was on lockdown for three months in early 2020 in the wake of the world’s first outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.

Xi, who was in the central China city for work at the time, said many Wuhan residents were grateful to the government for controlling the outbreak.

“At that time, the public realized the necessity of such extreme measures, because the situation was very dangerous. The general feeling in Shanghai is completely different – many believe that these measures are unnecessary,” he said.

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The Chinese government considered Wuhan a success story in its handling of the epidemic, with state media celebrating the lifting of its lockdown as a “heroic” victory over the virus.

However, the official version in Shanghai is more subdued. Even officials refused to acknowledge that the “lockdown” was ever imposed, instead calling it “fixed management mode.”

Passengers at a subway station in Shanghai on Wednesday.

In a directive widely circulated online on Tuesday, Shanghai authorities ordered media organizations to avoid using the phrase “lifting the lockdown”.

“The situation in Shanghai is different from the situation in Wuhan because we () have never announced a ‘lockdown’, so there is no ‘lockdown lifting’ to speak of.” The basic functions of the city were still in operation.”

On Wednesday, state media avoided every mention of the word “lockdown.” On the microblogging site Weibo, hashtags such as “Shanghai is back” and “Long time no see Shanghai” created by state media have attracted hundreds of millions of views, but none have been included in the top 10 trending topics – a closely managed list by censors.

Rocky Lee, a sales manager in Shanghai, was among the few who returned to work in an office complex near Jing’an Temple. Looking at the city’s overcast skyline from his office window, nothing seemed to have changed, yet he told me it would be difficult for Shanghai to get back to what it was.

“The actions taken in the past two months have really damaged the city’s reputation and made people realize how poor its governance is. Many companies and investors have lost confidence in Shanghai – and in China in general,” he said.

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Like many of his middle-class friends, Lee is considering leaving Shanghai and emigrating abroad because he no longer feels safe in the city.

“You can lock me up for two months, you can force me into government quarantine and kill my dog. What else can you do? How do you convince talent to stay after you’ve done all these things?”

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