"It's as if the Berlin Wall had fallen": Shanghai returns to life on Wednesday with the easing of many anti-Covid restrictions, after two months of a grueling confinement for the 25 million inhabitants and the economy .
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China's economic capital, the country's most 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 “low risk” to move freely in the city.
"We all feel like we've all been through a great trauma, a collective trauma," Grace Guan, a 35-year-old Shanghainese, told AFP.
She said she went out at midnight in the streets, where several people were celebrating the beer in hand event. "It's as if the Berlin Wall had fallen," she sums up.
Workers proceed on Wednesday to dismantle high yellow barriers that surrounded the buildings. And onlookers, masked, take advantage of their first steps of freedom.
The famous historic Bund, along the Huangpu River running through the city, comes alive with locals taking photos in front of the iconic skyscraper landscape on the other side.
"This is the moment we've been waiting for a long time," Shanghai City Hall said on social media.
" Please me "
Residents flock to metro stations and buses, which are operational again. Others chat in city parks, sometimes forming small groups.
“For two months, the only thing you had to worry about was buying food. So today, I want to treat myself and buy clothes,” Annie Xu, a 33-year-old Shanghainese, told AFP in a luxury boutique.
Malls, convenience stores and beauty salons, however, can only operate at 75% capacity. Parks and tourist sites are only gradually reopening.
Sports halls and cinemas remain closed and the reopening of schools will be done on a case-by-case basis. Wearing a mask remains compulsory.
But travel by taxi or private car is allowed in low-risk areas.
The authorities have however warned: the total return to normal is not for now and more than half a million people remain subject to restrictions on Wednesday.
"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.
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”.
Because if many factories and businesses can reopen, some remain closed.
“Of course I have some concerns. But all of this is beyond us (…) You can't plan anything with an epidemic,” Chen Ribin, a cafe owner, told AFP.
“Who knows if it will not come back in July or August? (…) I think it will take us two to three months to regain the level of activity we had before, ”he underlines.
The Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported only 15 new positive cases in Shanghai over the past 24 hours - against more than 25,000 as of the end of April.
Restrictions had already been eased as the epidemic ebbed.
But Shanghainese could generally only go out for a few hours a day at best and provided they were in a neighborhood with no 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.