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2022-06-01 13:57:15

SHANGHAI — The chatter of café crowds and bargaining at the market. The horns and rumble of traffic. Barking dogs. After two months of near silence, Shanghai sounded like a city again Wednesday as it dropped all lockdown restrictions for most of its 25 million residents.

It was the first time since April that many Shanghai residents were able to leave their apartment compounds without time limits and pass systems, and the first day that the great majority of businesses were able to reopen in two months. Crowds gathered at cafés, grocery stores, and other shops. Most restaurants, meanwhile, remained shut or served only takeout and delivery.

The lockdown officially ended at midnight Tuesday. In the hours before, excitement built.

Small parties gathered in bar streets, outside parks, and riverside walkways. About a dozen people, some with dogs, entered Anfu Road with beers and a bottle of champagne after police removed the barricades from the popular hangout spot around 10 p.m. They celebrated quietly until police moved the party on at around 11 p.m. At midnight, brief cheers drifted out of the windows and faded away quickly.

Overnight, cars poured onto the streets, the noise of the traffic keeping some residents awake all night.

“From 2:00 a.m. on, there were the sounds of firecrackers and car horns, beep beep beep until 5:00 a.m.,” said Azlair Bi, an architect living near Yan’an Elevated Road. “It was roiling.”

Traffic congestion near the Bund at midnight, Shanghai, June 1, 2022. Gao Zheng for Sixth Tone

Traffic congestion near the Bund at midnight, Shanghai, June 1, 2022. Gao Zheng for Sixth Tone

While some couldn’t sleep, others woke up early to finally head home after being trapped in the city for months. Two tile setters who spent the lockdown living in an unfurnished apartment woke at 4 a.m. and went to the train station at 7 a.m. to wait for a 2 p.m. train for the nearby city of Yangzhou. They face at least another week of quarantine when they reach home, under uncertain circumstances.

As the sun rose, residents began adjusting to new post-lockdown requirements. Entering indoor spaces or taking public transport now requires displaying a negative nucleic acid test result from within 72 hours, and scanning a “venue code” that records people’s visits.

The new neighborhood testing kiosks, which replace traveling testing teams, had lines stretching around corners. Two women finishing tests on West Nanjing Road said they’d waited 15 to 20 minutes for the throat swab.

People wait for a COVID-19 test in Yangpu District, Shanghai, June 1, 2022. VCG

People wait for a COVID-19 test in Yangpu District, Shanghai, June 1, 2022. VCG

At a bustling wet market, elderly shoppers grumbled about the venue code system, some shouting at staff about the inconvenience.

On Shanghai’s streets, buses and subways resumed normal service, with light loads. On buses headed downtown from the north end of Jing’an District, there were fewer than 10 passengers. For once, not one looked at a phone, instead staring out the windows.

Outside, in the city’s streetside café, familiar sights reemerged. Over a dozen customers sat in a cafe on Jianguo Road on a muggy morning, chatting or working on laptops. The owner, Daodao, told Sixth Tone that she wasn’t supposed to serve people indoors, but she couldn’t bring herself to refuse. Her reopening had come as a surprise: Local authorities contacted her only Tuesday afternoon permitting her to reopen. She’s offering only one kind of coffee bean owing to short supplies.

While clothing stores, delis, and cafés reopened, most restaurants remained closed. At lunchtime, a crowd filled the tables outside a Shanghai Shake Shack burger joint, eating tacos from a nearby location of Chili’s. Shake Shack will reopen for outdoor dining Thursday, staff told Sixth Tone through a half-open security curtain.

Though the city seemingly oozed a sense of normalcy, not everyone was able to get out. About 889,000 of the city’s 25 million residents would still remain in forms of quarantine after Wednesday, local officials said earlier this week.

Left: Residents in Liu’s apartment complex take COVID-19 test; Right: Residents gather at a shared outside space, June 1, 2022. Courtesy of Liu Weiqi

Left: Residents in Liu’s apartment complex take COVID-19 test; Right: Residents gather at a shared outside space, June 1, 2022. Courtesy of Liu Weiqi

Liu Weiqi, a Ph.D. student at Xi’an Jiaotong University, has at least another week of lockdown to endure after a neighbor tested positive a few days ago. Local authorities told residents of his apartment complex that they’ll be restricted at least until June 8, with two weeks or more to be added if another case is detected in that time.

The air in the compound is tense, Liu told Sixth Tone. Some residents argued in neighborhood WeChat groups that people should be allowed to leave if they were not in the same building as the infected person, while others went to the compound gate to protest. On the day of the city’s official reopening, he said, authorities have tolerated groups gathering in shared outdoor areas in defiance of local rules.

“It’s definitely a disappointment still being stuck in my apartment,” Liu told Sixth Tone. “But I don’t think I will feel exhilarated once we get out. That’s just the life and the rights we should have.”

Most university students also remain under tight controls, though schools have allowed students to leave for their hometowns in recent days. At Shanghai University, school officials said rules that keep students in their dorms would remain in place until June 5, and suggested a return to normal on June 13.

“It would be a lie to say we don’t envy others regaining their freedom,” said a Shanghai University graduate student surnamed Zheng. “But at least we have hope now. It’s already way better than we expected.”

A man walks down the street in the early morning, Shanghai, June 1, 2022. Zhou Pinglang for Sixth Tone

A man walks down the street in the early morning, Shanghai, June 1, 2022. Zhou Pinglang for Sixth Tone

Perhaps unhappiest of all was a dog owner surnamed Lu. She said her elderly poodle escaped from her home and suffered a bad injury.

“I left the door open while watching television and I didn’t realize my dog had gotten out,” she told Sixth Tone.

Some time later, Lu saw a picture of an injured dog just outside the compound gate in the building’s WeChat group, and recognized her dog. She rushed outside to find it had been bitten by a 12-year-old shiba inu.

“The owners of the shiba inu told me he was usually docile,” Lu said. “Maybe he got aggressive after being locked down at home for over two months.”

Lu has had to spend her first day of full freedom at the veterinary clinic. Her poodle is now immobile, lying in bed with his back wrapped in gauze. The veterinarian has suggested more treatments and surgeries, which will cost a fortune.

“It is just so sad he survived the lockdown but was injured once he tasted freedom,” she said.

Reporting by: Bibek Bhandari, Wu Peiyue, Xie Anran, Luo Meihan, Ye Zhanhang, and Fan Yiying; editors: David Cohen and Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A couple from Pudong New Area takes a ferry across the Huangpu River to the Bund in Shanghai, June 1, 2022, Wu Huiyuan/Sixth Tone)