Officials in Shanghai have promised to ease anti-virus controls on truck drivers that are hampering food supplies and trade as they try to revive the local economy while millions of people are still confined to their homes.
- Leaders in the city are scrambling to ease the impact of a “zero-COVID” strategy that shut down businesses last month
- Truck drivers have been facing long wait times at checkpoints to enter the city
- Electronic passes have been created for truck drivers to cross city boundaries with greater ease
Deputy mayor Zhang Wei promised “every effort” to resolve problems that prompted complaints about a lack of access to food and fears that the shutdown, which confined most of Shanghai’s 25 million people to their homes, might disrupt global trade.
On Friday, the government reported 11 coronavirus deaths and 17,529 new cases in Shanghai.
All but 1,931 of the new cases had no symptoms. Shanghai’s cases accounted for 95 per cent of the 18,598 new cases on China’s mainland, of which 2,133 had symptoms.
Shanghai leaders are scrambling to ease the impact of a “zero-COVID” strategy that shut down most businesses starting March 28.
Authorities have tried to increase food deliveries and the flow of goods to the Shanghai port, the world’s busiest, by creating electronic passes for truck drivers to cross city and province boundaries, Mr Zhang said at a news conference, according to state media.
Truck drivers have been stymied by restrictions that require regular virus tests and multiple checkpoints, which have led to long waits and reports that some shipping companies and drivers are avoiding Shanghai.
Under the new system, drivers are allowed through if they have a negative virus test within the past 48 hours, no fever and a “green health code” on their smartphone that shows they haven’t been to areas with outbreaks, according to Wu Chungeng, director of the Highway Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation.
“All localities should directly release them,” Wu said, according to news reports.
Meanwhile, some 80,000 small enterprises in government-owned buildings in Shanghai will be given six months of free rent, the director of the city’s commission for state-owned assets, Bai Tinghui, said at the news conference with Mr Zhang, according to state media.
The government has made 65 billion yuan ($13.73 billion) in “support loans” to Shanghai businesses and distributed other financial aid, the online news outlet The Paper reported, citing city officials.
Officials at the news conference said the Shanghai port is operating normally. But daily cargo volume of the equivalent of 100,000 containers, cited by news reports, is down almost 30 per cent from the normal level of 140,000 containers.
Lockdown eased in some areas
Shanghai has eased the lockdown somewhat in areas that have not reported new cases in seven to 14 days, allowing residents out of their homes but still restricting them to their compounds or neighbourhoods.
Supermarkets and pharmacies are reopening, as well as some factories and other businesses. But most offices, shops and companies are closed.
Some residents said on social media that they dare not venture out anyway, wary of entering nearby areas that have had recent cases.
Officials said this week that 12.3 million people in the city of 25 million are now in “control” or “prevention” areas, which are less restrictive than lockdown zones in a three-tier system.
That is 4 million more than 10 days ago, they said.
However, one of the city’s 16 districts announced on Thursday that no residents would be allowed to leave their compounds.
The Jing’an district in central Shanghai said that even those in prevention areas, the least restrictive zone, would no longer be able to venture into the surrounding neighbourhood.
In eastern Shanghai, some residents were ordered to leave their homes while health workers carried out a large-scale disinfection following a spike in infections, according to news reports and social media posts.
It wasn’t clear how many people in Beicai town were affected.
The area’s population is nearly 300,000. Phone calls to the municipal government weren’t answered.
Photos published by The Paper showed workers in hooded, white protective suits spraying disinfectant in homes.