SHANGHAI, RAW – Some residents of Shanghai have stepped out of their homes for the first time in more than two weeks as the city takes tentative steps towards easing a COVID-19 lockdown amid mounting worries over the economic impact of the strict curbs.

With a quarter of the population now in some form of lockdown, China’s leadership is increasingly concerned about the long-term economic impact of its “zero-COVID” strategy, but it remains reluctant to risk larger waves of infection.

Shanghai said on Monday that more than 7000 residential units had been classified as lower-risk areas after reporting no new infections for 14 days, and its districts had since been announcing which compounds could be opened up.

But while some people were allowed out of their residences on Tuesday, there was still confusion about the extent to which those living in lower-risk zones were free to move, with many still awaiting permission from their residential committees.

Residents from lower-risk zones known as “prevention areas” were still subject to controls and would have to observe strict social distancing measures, city health official Wu Qianyu said at a media briefing.

“After a long period of lockdown, it is understandable that people want to go out and get some air, and they need to go shopping for food and medicine and go for medical treatment,” she said.

“But if lots of people gather in a disorderly way, it will cause hidden dangers to our epidemic prevention work.”

On Monday, Shanghai’s total new asymptomatic cases fell 11 per cent from a day earlier to 22,348, with confirmed symptomatic cases rising to 994 from 914.

But experts said it was still too early to say whether the city was getting to grips China’s biggest outbreak since the coronavirus was first discovered in late 2019.

With the economy under increasing strain, efforts were being made in Shanghai to reopen supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies, but non-essential businesses would remain suspended, said Liu Min, vice head of the city’s commercial commission.

Nomura estimates as many as 45 cities in China are implementing either full or partial lockdowns, making up 26.4 per cent of the country’s population and 40.3 per cent of its GDP.