By Brenda Goh and Ella Cao
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s commercial capital of Shanghai on Wednesday reported no new COVID-19 infections outside quarantine zones in two districts, stoking hopes that the tide is turning in its battle against the pandemic, as some factories have started to resume work.
State media trumpeted the resumption of production by electric car company Tesla Inc at its Shanghai factory on Tuesday after a shutdown of more than three weeks.
The US automaker was on a list of 666 companies that the Chinese government said last week would be given priority to reopen or maintain operations in Shanghai.
“The epidemic situation in the city in recent days has shown a downward trend,” city health official Wu Qianyu said at a daily press conference on Wednesday. “Community spread was effectively curbed.”
Strict lockdown measures after the outbreak began in early March left the city’s 25 million residents struggling with loss of income, erratic food supply, family separations and poor quarantine conditions.
While 16.3 million people are still barred from leaving apartments or housing complexes, Wu added, 7.85 million can return to factories or walk outside, an increase of 2 million compared to last week.
But some of those on looser restrictions say they are still unable to get the permission they need from neighborhood authorities to go outside.
Authorities stepped up daily testing of residents this week, as well as transfers of positive cases and their close contacts to quarantine centers outside Shanghai.
Social media users told stories of buses full of residents being taken from their homes and sent to quarantine, even babies and the elderly.
Shanghai reported 16,407 new local asymptomatic coronavirus cases on Tuesday, up from 17,332 the day before. Symptomatic cases fell to 2,494 from 3,084.
Municipal authorities on Tuesday reported the deaths of seven people infected with COVID-19. The toll stands at 17 since the start of the last outbreak, all in the past three days.
Many locals, however, said a family member had died after catching COVID-19 since early March, but the cases had not been included in official statistics, raising doubts about their accuracy.
The Shanghai government did not immediately respond to questions about the death toll.
Sources told Reuters that Shanghai aims to stop the spread of COVID-19 outside quarantine zones by Wednesday.
Tuesday’s 390 new cases outside quarantine zones were down from 550 on Monday. Two of Shanghai’s 16 counties, Jinshan and Chongming, reported no new cases outside quarantine areas, while seven were in the single digits.
Other cities under lockdown have started easing restrictions after halting transmission outside quarantine zones.
Once Shanghai residents can resume going outdoors, a top priority is to boost lagging vaccination rates among the elderly, health officials said. Only 62% of people over the age of 60 were fully vaccinated, of whom 38% received a booster dose.
China’s strict control measures have hurt the world’s second-largest economy and global supply chains. As some companies resume factory operations, analysts do not expect production to see a linear recovery.
Most workers will have to live on site and factories will have to deal with disruptions to supply lines and access to markets, with supply chains blocked by closures in other cities and problems at ports. and trucking operations.
A logistical “nightmare” facing many companies allowed to resume production, an official with the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China has warned.
In a statement, Vice President Bettina Schoen-Behanzin said the number of available trucks has fallen by 40% to 50%, with less than 30% of employees able to return to work.
“There is a huge gap between the policy and the reality of implementation,” she added.
In the nearby city of Kunshan, home to many suppliers like Apple, Taiwanese companies making chips and electronic components have reported a mixed picture of getting back to work.
Chip and circuit board substrate maker Unmicron Technology Corp said it would gradually resume, while Asia Electronic Material Co Ltd, which makes parts for laptops, mobile phones and digital cameras, said his factory would remain closed.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh, Beijing and Shanghai newsrooms; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Clarence Fernandez)