Shanghai has sprung back to life after two months of bitter isolation under a ruthless COVID-19 lockdown, with people driving cars again or cramming into trains and buses to go back to work, hoping to never go through a similar ordeal again.
The 25 million residents in China's largest and most cosmopolitan city endured two months of frustration, mental stress and economic loss as the country went against the global consensus that COVID-19 cannot be decisively defeated and imposed a zero-tolerance policy to stamp out outbreaks.
"I feel like I've regained my freedom," university student Hang Meichen said on Wednesday. Restrictions were lifted from midnight.
Joggers, skaters and dog walkers defied the muggy heat to take over riverfront parks. Shopkeepers were cleaning windows. Men in buttoned down shirts walked into flashy office towers, but not in the same numbers as before the outbreak, with many firms enforcing a staggered return to work.
Life was not fully back to the pre-COVID normal. Restaurant dining remains banned, shops can operate at only 75 per cent capacity and gyms will reopen later.
There were also long queues at testing sites, with residents needing recent negative results to take public transport and enter various buildings, and many queued at vaccination centres.
The fear that COVID-19 and restriction could return was visible. Police and clerks at public-facing desks were wearing full hazmat suits. Many commuters wore gloves and face shields. All wore masks.
The city's handling of the lockdown provoked rare protests, with people at times banging pots and pans outside their windows to show discontent. Those were awkward scenes for the ruling Communist Party in a sensitive year when President Xi Jinping is expected to secure a precedent-breaking third leadership term.
The lockdown battered Shanghai's manufacturing and export sectors, disrupted supply chains in China and elsewhere and slowed international trade.
Shanghai's government published what it called a "thank you" letter to residents, with medical staff, police, the army, journalists and "grass-roots" cadres among many getting special mention for their contributions.
On Tuesday, Shanghai's largest quarantine facility - a 50,000-bed section of the National Exhibition & Convention Centre - discharged the last two of the 174,308 positive cases who had been housed there. It declared itself shut.
But Shanghai's lockdown has come to symbolise what critics say is the unsustainability of China's adherence to a zero-COVID policy.
Australian Associated Press
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