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After a 2-month COVID lockdown, Shanghai begins to reopen

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

In late March, the Chinese government locked down the city of Shanghai to snuff out a surge in omicron cases. More than 25 million residents were forced to stay home. Businesses were closed, public transit was shut down, and one of the biggest cities on the planet went quiet. Well, today, after more than two months, Shanghai took some big steps to end that lockdown. NPR China affairs correspondent John Ruwitch is in China, and I asked him whether things are really opening up again.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Well, the simple answer seems to be yes, for the most part. I mean, there are some parts of town with a few COVID cases still that are - you know, where movement is restricted. But the majority of people in this city are free to go wherever they want now. Public transportation resumed. They're restarting international flights. Private cars are allowed on the streets again. And online, I saw people celebrating the sight of traffic jams. You know, there are still restrictions for people. You can't dine in restaurants, and everyone in Shanghai will need to take a COVID test every three days and show a negative result to be able to do just about anything, like go into a building or enter an apartment complex. But they did take a big step today.

MARTINEZ: Clearly, people are happy and relieved maybe, but you've been talking to some people in Shanghai, and they're concerned that this might not really be the end.

RUWITCH: Yeah, mixed feelings. A friend described it as like New Years but also a little bit surreal and feeling maybe a little bit tenuous. It's been an exceedingly tough experience for people in Shanghai. Trust in the government has been dented, right? This was originally supposed to be a four-day lockdown for anybody in Shanghai. And nobody really knows what's going to happen if, or maybe we should say when, cases pop up again in this city. One woman we talked to, Nicole Wong (ph), is a marketing strategist. She's been in lockdown for 80 days and hasn't been out at all. But she thinks the city is just opening up too quickly, and she made a point of not going out today.

NICOLE WONG: (Through interpreter) Even though everyone has a COVID test and a green health code, I'm still worried that there is a risk of contamination.

RUWITCH: Yeah. And an artist named Lucas Wong (ph), who we caught up with, was out having some drinks last night to celebrate early. But he also has concerns.

LUCAS WONG: (Non-English language spoken).

RUWITCH: So here he's saying that he doesn't see things really getting back to full normal anytime soon. And it's been a traumatic experience for the city, and he predicts that lots of stores and businesses went under during the lockdown and that in the coming days we're going to see the extent of the carnage.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, and I'm pretty sure I know the answer to this, but I'm going to ask anyway. This lockdown comes at a steep economic cost, right?

RUWITCH: (Laughter) It does.

MARTINEZ: Yeah.

RUWITCH: Shanghai's a big city. It's cosmopolitan. It's in the spotlight. People around the world know it. But it's just one place of many in China where this kind of thing has happened. There's still a lot of parts of the country where people are experiencing lockdowns or restricted movement. You know, even without lockdown, just getting around now is tough. You have to have negative COVID tests. There are QR codes that are required. It's all a drag on the economy. And the government recognizes this, right? Last week, Premier Li Keqiang had a video conference with tens of thousands of officials from every corner of the country, and he urged them to help companies get back up on their feet, get back to production and to push economic growth in the second quarter into positive territory, which some read as a sign that Q2 growth might be negative. The full year GDP growth target for China is around 5.5%. That is going to be a hard number for them to hit.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's John Ruwitch in Shenzhen. John, thanks.

RUWITCH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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