SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) -- Shanghai on Monday announced an end to its two-month long COVID-19 lockdown, allowing people in virus-free areas of China's largest city to leave their homes and drive their cars.
The news brought an outpouring of relief, joy and some wariness from exhausted residents.
"I'm so emotional that I'm going to cry," said one Weibo user.
Most of the city's 25 million residents have been confined to their homes for almost all of two months, with curbs only slightly relaxing in recent weeks to allow some to go out for short periods of time.
Local authorities had earlier this month said they planned to fully restore normal life by next month but it was not clear how they would carry that out amid an insistence on sticking to China's zero-COVID policy.
Some residents greeted the news with disbelief, reflecting on how what was originally supposed to be a lockdown lasting just under five days for most became a longer ordeal.
"Please don't be lying to me," one person said on social media. "I'm numb," said another.
The easing of curbs applies only to those in low-risk areas, which are home to about 22.3 million people, according to government data. People will still be required to wear masks and are discouraged from gathering and encouraged to get vaccinated.
It did not say whether activities such as restaurant dining would be permitted.
"The epidemic situation in our city has been effectively controlled and the situation continues to improve," the city government said on Monday in a statement announcing the removal of the lockdown's most draconian measures.
Shanghai imposed the city-wide lockdown on April 1 to combat the spread of COVID-19, exacting measures that caused widespread public anger and pummeled supply chains and China's economy.
Residents have heavily criticized the city government over its communication during much of the lockdown. On Sunday, Shanghai announced it was removing restrictions on business reopenings, but gave no indication at that time on how it would lift other lockdown measures.
It was also still unclear whether firms must continue to adhere to a "closed loop" management system in order to reopen. Companies have called such requirements problematic as they must find ways for workers to sleep on site and carry out regular disinfection.
Eric Zheng, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, welcomed the city's decision to lift lockdown but he said he remained concerned about "red tape" and the requirement for employees to live and work in a bubble as a condition for businesses to reopen.
China's "zero COVID" policy aimed at eradicating outbreaks at just about any cost is at odds with other countries that have opted to live with the virus, and the lack of an exit strategy has worried investors.
China's new daily cases are in the hundreds compared with tens of thousands in many Western nations.
In Beijing, which is fighting its own smaller outbreak, streets were busier on Monday as more residents returned to work and public transport curbs were eased. But officials said the emergence of a new case outside of quarantined zones after three clear days showed the tall task of quelling COVID.
Beijing had reported no cases in the community for three straight days - the best run since its current outbreak began in late April - until a new case surfaced on Monday.
"There was a new flare-up today, indicating Beijing's 'dynamic-zero' mission is arduous and we should constantly be on alert," municipal government spokesperson Xu Hejian told a news conference.
The Beijing districts of Fangshan and Shunyi ended work-from-home rules on Monday, while that requirement has also largely been dropped in the city's biggest district Chaoyang. Public transport has mostly resumed in all three areas.
Libraries, museums, theatres and gyms were allowed to reopen on Sunday, though with limits on numbers of people, in districts that have seen no community COVID cases for seven consecutive days. Still, restaurant dining is banned throughout the city.
While there have been signs that economic activity is recovering somewhat from a dismal April, the strength and sustainability of any rebound depends largely on COVID developments.
Shanghai reported fewer than 100 new COVID cases for May 29, while Beijing recorded 12. Across the country, China reported 184 new cases, down from 293.