By Brenda Goh and Ella Cao
SHANGHAI (Reuters) -Shanghai authorities said on Thursday tough restrictions would remain in place for now even in districts which managed to cut COVID-19 transmission to zero, prolonging the agony for many residents who have been stuck at home for most of this month.
That sober assessment, prompted by an unexpected rise in the number of cases outside quarantined areas, came after health officials earlier in the week had fuelled hopes of some return to normal by saying that trends in recent days showed Shanghai had “effectively curbed transmissions”.
At a regular press conference, an official from the Chongming district, an outlying island area, said most curbs would be kept in place, although it has reported zero cases outside quarantined areas and 90% of its 640,000-or-so residents were now in theory allowed to leave their homes.
“For those in prevention areas, we have to continue to ensure that they don’t become ‘free to fly’ areas,” deputy governor Zhang Zhitong said, referring to neighbourhoods which meet the criteria for residents to be allowed to go outside.
Supermarkets would remain shut to shoppers, vehicles would not be allowed on roads without approval, and only one person from each household would be allowed to leave home each day in some towns in Chongming, he said.
The central district of Jingan, home to nearly 1 million people and some of the city’s flashiest malls, announced on Thursday it would no longer allow any residents out of their housing compounds, citing risks of large gatherings.
Frustration is mounting among people who thought earlier this week their lives may begin to gradually return to normal.
“I no longer have strength to complain about the measures that change from day to night,” one Jingan resident wrote on social media. “And this is not even a problem worth mentioning among the serious problems Shanghai is facing.”
A video of a tense interaction between a resident of Jingan and a neighbourhood committee official was circulated widely on Chinese social media on Wednesday evening.
The resident asks repeatedly why she cannot go outside despite living in an area where leaving home is allowed, only to receive the same answer: “I told you we got a notice.” Reuters could not verify the video’s authenticity.
Shanghai reported 15,861 new local asymptomatic coronavirus cases on Wednesday, down from 16,407 a day earlier. Symptomatic cases stood at 2,634, up from 2,494.
Crucially, there were 441 new cases outside quarantined areas, up from 390 a day earlier.
EIGHT MORE DEATHS
Eight people with COVID-19 died in Shanghai on Wednesday, authorities said, bringing the death toll of the current outbreak to 25 – all recorded in the past four days.
Many residents have said, however, that a family member had died after catching COVID-19 since early March, but cases had not been included in official statistics, raising doubts over their accuracy.
The Shanghai government did not respond to questions regarding the death toll.
State media reported on Thursday that the Shanghai government was investigating three funeral home officials for refusing to provide funeral services using COVID as an excuse.
Shanghai ordered virtually all residents to stay home at the start of April after COVID-19 cases began to surge. Residents have faced income losses, difficulty getting food, family separations and poor conditions in quarantine.
With public resentment rising, city officials said on Thursday they would look into complaints made by residents over the quality and expiry dates of products such as duck meat and cooking oil provided in government ration packs.
Businesses are beginning to reopen, though they have to operate under “closed loop management”, which entails living on site, daily testing and rigorous disinfection.
U.S. electric carmaker Tesla Inc is among 666 companies allowed to resume operations, and its reopening was given generous airtime on state media this week. Industry bodies caution, however, that factories face logistical nightmares and are far from resuming full production.
(Reporting by the Shanghai and Beijing bureaus; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)