After another intense fight against COVID-19, Chinese cities gradually return to their normal hustle and bustle
By Lu Yan  ·  2022-06-15  ·   Source: NO.24 JUNE 16, 2022
A barista demonstrates the online order and pick-up service at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Shanghai on June 3 (XINHUA)

Late at night on June 5, Beijing resident Wu Jiansen shared an update on WeChat, one of China's most widely used super apps, posting a late-night view of the entrance to Huda Restaurant on Guijie, one of the capital's most famous food streets, with a caption that read, "I want to be the first person to have crayfish after the city resumes dine-in services."

But Wu wasn't the only one craving the restaurant's specialty. With its resumption of full operation at the stroke of midnight that very day, after more than a month of interrupted services, scores of people waited in line to take a bite of the savory snack.

Since late April, the Chinese capital has been racing against the clock to contain its latest COVID-19 resurgence. Targeted lockdowns, working from home, the temporary shutdown of some public places like restaurants, shopping malls, cinemas and gyms… authorities had to pull out all the stops, but did try to make things as easy as possible on residents.

"I'm excited that our lives are getting back to normal again; right now, I'm feeling more grateful for the hard-won 'healthy life' and virus-free environment created by the concerted efforts of all," Wu told Beijing Review.

Come to a screeching halt 

In the first half of this year, several cities were hit by waves of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Instead of "living with COVID-19," Chinese cities chose to roll out faster and more targeted responses to contain the outbreaks and minimize the impact of the virus on the overall economy—and people's lives.

On April 22, Beijing reported several positive cases, marking the start of the latest COVID-19 resurgence in this city with more than 20 million permanent residents. New cases of locally transmitted infection were first found in the districts of Chaoyang and Shunyi, involving school students and tour groups.

Without wasting any time, local health authorities mapped out the areas at risk and placed these under closed-loop management to break the chain of infection as soon as possible. In the following 40-plus days, residents participated in daily rounds of free nucleic acid testing and confirmed cases received treatment at designated hospitals. Roughly one week into the flare-up, restaurants were required to suspend their dine-in services. The city also locked down and controlled areas according to the specific local situation and changing circumstances there, and people residing in certain districts were encouraged to work from home.

All these targeted actions ensured the flare-up was brought under control without delay. No new community transmitted infection had been reported in Beijing for more than three days ending at 3 p.m. on June 6. And, life began its gradual return to normal. 

Shanghai, another megacity with a population of nearly 25 million, achieved a similar victory over the virus on June 1 following more than two months of being shrouded in the Omicron shadow. The situation was more precarious than that in Beijing, with more than 600,000 cases reported. To contain the new wave of infection, Shanghai went into full closed-off management. 

"For more than two years, the coronavirus has been mutating, and our understanding of the virus has evolved," Wu Huanyu, Deputy Director of the Shanghai Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in his online address to the public in early June, adding that although Shanghai has been returning to normal, as long as the virus exists, people must not ignore the potential risks.

"Everyone must protect themselves as a way of being responsible toward themselves, their families, and society," Wu Huanyu added.

Back to business 

As cities are now back to production, various policies have been rolled out to support enterprises and employees alike. For example, the government of Baoshan District in Shanghai allocated 1 billion yuan ($150 million) to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and other companies in difficulty.

"SMEs are the focus of our attention and assistance," said Liu Yan, deputy head of the city's Minhang District, adding that supporting measures include offering temporary dormitories to staff members in need, providing consultancy services to companies where necessary, as well as subsidies.

As a business hub, Shanghai is home to many overseas-funded enterprises. The city will establish a mechanism to arrange designated personnel to aid work resumption of key foreign-funded enterprises and launch an online service system for major foreign-funded projects, according to an action plan issued on May 29. 

"We have established a regular exchange mechanism with foreign business associations and enterprises to hear their opinions and respond to concerns," Gao Feng, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce, said at a press

conference on June 2. Gao said further measures relating to smoother logistics and entry of foreign staff will soon be in place.

The Beijing Municipal Government announced a plan to gear up business operations in early June. It read that those tenants in state-owned properties can apply for rent reduction. For lessees who are science and technology incubators in non-state-owned houses, authorities will subsidize 50 percent of rent.

The capital will also promote the recovery of food and beverage, culture, sports and entertainment businesses. Authorities will encourage food delivery platforms to hand out vouchers and offer them subsidies to help mitigate the impact of the citywide dine-in service suspension.

However, despite multiple policies, both companies and the workforce still face a long road to recovery. Liu Xiaochun, Deputy Director of the China Academy of Financial Research under Shanghai Jiao Tong University, said companies currently still come up against many challenges to return to normalcy because other market players in the industry chain have not yet been reactivated.

"No one market entity can operate without others being up and running… Most logistics came to a screeching halt, affecting the operation of society and the resumption of production," Liu told Shanghai Securities News. He believes the pandemic has generated other problems, such as the possible outflow of high-caliber personnel and foreign talents in the future, which may pose far greater challenges to the development of enterprises.

"Unfortunately, given my salary is directly linked to the deals I seal—zero in the past two months, I was barely able to make ends meet during the lockdown," Li Jiandong, a salesperson at a small advertisement company in Shanghai, told Beijing Review. "But I do believe that with COVID-19 waning nationally and internationally at this point, our business will see a boost, as will companies in other industries."

(Print Edition Title: Pause… And Play) 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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