BEIJING — Major Chinese cities Beijing and Shanghai began to relax Covid controls over the weekend as the local case count dropped.
Nationwide, the number of new cases with symptoms on the mainland fell to 20 on Sunday, down from 54 a day earlier. The capital city of Beijing reported eight new Covid cases for Sunday, while Shanghai recorded six.
The loosening of restrictions comes about two months after Shanghai, China’s largest city, ordered people to stay in their apartments for mass virus testing. Beijing city had begun tightening Covid controls about a month ago, but only locked down some neighborhoods.
On Sunday, Shanghai authorities said businesses could start to reopen without having to apply for approval starting Wednesday. A shopping area called Xintiandi — including a local Shake Shack — was among those set to resume some offline operations Wednesday, according to state media.
The city also announced a raft of measures to support businesses, especially those that had minimal layoffs. To stimulate consumption, the city said it would give 10,000 yuan ($1,493) to any individual switching to a battery-powered car this year.
As of Sunday, Shanghai claimed that only 220,000 people remained subject to the most restrictive stay-home orders, and that more than 22 million were allowed to venture out into the community.
In Beijing, major shopping centers, including a luxury mall that temporarily closed a month ago due to Covid, announced they would reopen as of Sunday. Hotels in the rural outskirts of the capital city could also reopen. An amusement park called Happy Valley Beijing said it planned to reopen on Tuesday.
Ride-hailing and most public transport resumed in the main business area, while more people were allowed to return to work. Some libraries, museums and gyms could reopen at half their capacity, if no Covid cases were found in the past seven days at a community level.
However, restaurants in Beijing can still only operate on a takeout or delivery basis, with no customers dining inside. Middle and elementary schools remain closed.
After the latest Covid outbreak, both Shanghai and Beijing require a valid negative virus test in order to enter public areas. In Beijing, test results are only valid for 48 hours, while Shanghai said beginning Wednesday, test results will be valid for 72 hours.
It remains unclear how quickly most businesses will be able to resume normal production as implementation of Covid measures can vary at a neighborhood level. Any new confirmed Covid cases or contacts with one can result in renewed tightening.
Clients in Beijing “question the magnitude of the growth rebound” even after a relaxation of Covid controls, Goldman Sachs analysts said in a report Sunday.
“Local clients worry about scarring effects from anti-pandemic measures and growth slowdown, which include heightened uncertainties around economic and policy outlook, a higher number of bankruptcies and elevated unemployment rates,” the analysts said.