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Shanghai reopens some public transport, still on high COVID alert

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© Reuters. A staff member in a protective suit stands on a platform of a subway station, on the first day of parts of city’s subway services resumed, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Shanghai, China May 22, 2022. REUTERS/Brenda Goh

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By Brenda Goh and Martin Quin Pollard

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Shanghai reopened a small part of the world’s longest subway system on Sunday after some lines had been closed for almost two months, as the city paves the way for a more complete lifting of its painful COVID-19 lockdown next week.

With most residents not allowed to leave their homes and restrictions tightening in parts of China’s most populous city, commuters early on Sunday needed strong reasons to travel.

Shanghai’s lockdown and curbs in other cities have battered consumption, industrial output and other sectors of the Chinese economy in recent months, prompting pledges of support from policymakers.

Many who ventured out in the commercial hub wore blue protective gowns and face shields. Inside the carriages, passengers were seen keeping some empty seats between themselves. Crowds were small.

Xu Jihua, a migrant construction worker, arrived at a subway stop before it opened at 7 a.m., hoping to get to a rail station, then home to the eastern province of Anhui.

“Work stopped on March 16,” said Xu, adding he had not been able to earn his monthly 7,000-8,000 yuan ($1,000-$1,100) salary since then and would only return to Shanghai once he was sure he could find work.

“Is the lockdown really lifting or not? It’s not very clear.”

A woman who asked only to be identified by her surname Li said she needed to visit her father in a hospital 8 km (5 miles) from her final stop.

“I’m going to the heart hospital, but I don’t know whether there will be any cars or transport once I get to the railway station,” Li said. “I might have to walk there.”

Four of the 20 lines reopened, and 273 bus routes. Some had closed in late March, others later, although sporadic service continued with a limited number of stops.

The city of 25 million expects to lift its city-wide lockdown and return to more normal life from June 1. Most restrictions on movement will remain in place this month.

Shanghai’s 800-km metro system averaged 7.7 million rides a day in 2020, according to the latest data, with an annual passenger throughput of 2.8 billion.

Trains will run 20 minutes apart for limited hours. Commuters must scan their body temperature at the entrance and show negative results of PCR tests taken within 48 hours.

UNEXPLAINED CURBS

Shanghai has gradually reopened convenience stores and wholesale markets and allowed more people to walk out of their homes, with community transmissions largely eliminated.

Still, parts of the city have recently tightened curbs, underlying the difficulty of resuming normal life under China’s zero-COVID policy, which is increasingly at odds with the rest of the world.

Jingan, a key commercial district, said on Saturday it will require all shops to shut and residents to stay home until at least Tuesday, as it carries out mass testing.

The use of exit permits, previously given to residents that allowed them to leave their homes for short walks will be suspended, authorities said without giving a reason.

Similar actions were announced on Friday in the Hongkou district as well as on Saturday by Qingpu district’s Zhaoxiang town, which said they wanted to “consolidate” the results of their epidemic prevention efforts so far.

Shanghai reported fewer than 700 daily cases on Sunday. Significantly, none was outside quarantined areas, as they have been the case for much of the past week. The capital Beijing reported 61 cases, down from 70.

Beijing has been gradually tightening restrictions since April 22, with many shops closed, public transport curtailed and residents asked to work from home. But it still struggles to eliminate an outbreak of dozens of new infections a day.

Tianjin, a key northeastern port, found 36 new cases on Saturday, CCTV reported.

Regulators said on Friday they will streamline the process of equity and bond issuance by companies hit by the pandemic, and urged brokerages and fund managers to channel more money into virus-hit sectors.

($1 = 6.6921 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Coronavirus

China slashes COVID quarantine time for international travellers

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People line up at a nucleic acid testing station, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, China, June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

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BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China on Tuesday slashed the quarantine time for inbound travellers by half in a major easing of one of the world’s strictest COVID-19 curbs, which have deterred travel in and out of the country since 2020.

Quarantine at centralised facilities has been cut to seven days from 14, and subsequent at-home health monitoring has been reduced to three days from seven, the National Health Commission said.

The latest guidelines from the health authority also eased quarantine requirements for close contacts of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

China has cautiously eased its COVID curbs on cross-border travellers in recent months, with health officials saying the shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant allows for an adjustment of quarantine periods.

The Chinese capital Beijing in recent months has already reduced the quarantine period at centralised facilities to 10 days from 14.

China, last month, also removed some COVID-19 test requirements for people flying in from countries such as the United States.

“We believe that today’s announcement will be welcomed by the American business community,” the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said on its official WeChat account.

The quarantine adjustment will make it easier for companies to bring staff to China, and for Chinese companies and their executives to visit the United States, AmCham said.

Stock markets rose in Hong Kong and the mainland, with the Hang Seng Index reversing losses and ticking up roughly 0.4% and the CSI300 Index gaining 0.7%.

Shares in mainland tourism companies jumped more than 5%.

China’s aviation regulator said this month it had been in touch with some countries to steadily increase the number of flights in the second half of 2022.

IN THE CLEAR

Beijing and Shanghai reported on Tuesday no new local COVID infections, the first time both cities were in the clear simultaneously since late February, after months of fighting their worst-ever outbreaks.

The milestone for the two cities, achieved on Monday, came after their daily caseloads dropped to single digits over the past week, allowing Shanghai to gradually resume eating in at restaurants and Beijing to reopen some leisure venues including the Universal Beijing Resort.

Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang declared on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID-19.

The Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) Co’s Shanghai Disney Resort said on Tuesday that it would reopen the Disneyland theme park on June 30; it had been shut for more than three months.

Authorities, however, were adamant the government’s so-called dynamic zero COVID policy, which aims at blocking flare-ups from spreading as they crop up, remains in place.

Beijing would “fight against any new outbreaks at the outset and with speed and resolutely break their transmission channel”, Cai Qi, the city’s top Communist Party chief, was quoted as saying in a report by the party-backed Beijing Daily.

Earlier on Monday, the Beijing Daily apparently misquoted Cai as saying the city would maintain its COVID control effort for “the next five years”.

The newspaper afterwards removed the reference and its chief, Zhao Jingyun, said it was an error but that did not prevent some suspicion among the public.

“Surely it wasn’t a mistake! It’s meant to gauge public opinion!” said a user of the Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) social media platform.

Another Weibo user said even if it was a mistake, “at least the higher-ups are now aware of how helpless we all feel and how we detest the current counter-epidemic policies”.

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Coronavirus

Beijing, Shanghai both free of new local COVID cases for first time in months

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People line up at a nucleic acid testing station, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, China, June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s capital, Beijing, and the financial hub of Shanghai reported on Tuesday no new local COVID infections, the first time both cities were in the clear at the same time since late February, after months of fighting their worst-ever outbreaks.

The milestone for the two cities, achieved on Monday, came after their daily caseloads dropped to single digits over the past week, allowing Shanghai to gradually resume eating in at restaurants and Beijing to reopen some leisure venues including the Universal Beijing Resort.

Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang declared on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID-19, following a crushing two-month citywide lockdown that was finally lifted in early June.

Authorities, however, remained wary and were adamant that the government’s so-called dynamic zero COVID policy, which aims at blocking flare-ups from spreading as they crop up, remains in place.

Beijing would “fight against any new outbreaks at the outset and with speed and resolutely break their transmission channel”, Cai Qi, the city’s top Communist Party chief, was quoted as saying in a report by the party-backed Beijing Daily.

The city would build “a solid virus barrier”, Cai was quoted as saying on Monday.

Earlier on Monday, the Beijing Daily apparently misquoted Cai as saying the city would maintain its COVID control effort for “the next five years”.

The newspaper afterwards removed the reference and its chief, Zhao Jingyun, said it was an error but that did not prevent some suspicion among the public.

“Surely it wasn’t a mistake! It’s meant to gauge public opinion!” said a user of the Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) social media platform.

Another Weibo user said even if it was a mistake, “at least the higher-ups are now aware of how helpless we all feel and how we detest the current counter-epidemic policies”.

Despite easing COVID restrictions in Beijing and Shanghai, their combined 47 million residents have been told to go through COVID testing every few days, to maintain access to public spaces and transport.

Elsewhere in mainland China, a total of 22 domestically transmitted infections were reported for June 27, including five in the southern technology hub Shenzhen.

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Coronavirus

U.S. appeals court vacates federal vaccine mandate pending additional hearing

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A resident over 50 years old and immunocompromised receives a second booster shot of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Waterford, Michigan, U.S., April 8, 2022. REUTERS/Emily Elconin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court panel said on Monday it would convene a full panel to reconsider President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring civilian federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and set aside the order pending that hearing.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is based in New Orleans, had reinstated the vaccine order in April by a 2-1 vote after it was blocked by a district court judge in January. [L2N2W530Z]

The court said on Monday that it would reconsider the case en banc, which means it will be heard by a larger panel of judges. No date was given for the hearing. Pending that hearing, the court said it would vacate the April ruling, which means that Biden’s order cannot be enforced.

Biden said in September he would require about 3.5 million government workers to get vaccinated by Nov. 22, barring a religious or medical accommodation, or face discipline or firing. Despite the legal fight, more than 90% of federal workers were vaccinated by December, the White House said last year.

The president’s vaccine and mask mandates have faced stiff opposition, led by Republicans, which have turned public safety measures endorsed by disease experts into a political and legal battle in the United States.

The United States passed the milestone of 1 million dead from the coronavirus in May. More than 250 people still die of the disease daily, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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