Shanghai will gradually begin reopening businesses such as shopping malls and hair salons in China's financial and manufacturing hub from Monday after weeks in strict COVID-19 lockdown, while Beijing battles a small but stubborn outbreak.
All but shut down for more than six weeks, Shanghai is tightening curbs in some areas that it hopes marks a final push in its campaign against the virus, which has infuriated and exhausted residents of China's largest and most cosmopolitan city.
Shopping malls, department stores, and supermarkets will begin resuming in-store operations and allow customers to shop in "an orderly way", while hair salons and vegetable markets will reopen with limited capacity, Vice Mayor Chen Tong told a media briefing on Sunday.
He gave no specifics on the pace or extent of such reopenings, and many residents reacted online with scepticism.
"Who are you lying to? We can't even go out of our compound. You can open up, no one can go," said a user of China's Twitter-like Weibo, whose IP showed as being from Shanghai.
During Shanghai's lockdown, residents have been mainly limited to buying necessities, with normal shopping on online platforms largely suspended due to a shortage of couriers.
And while barbers and hairdressers have been giving haircuts on the street or in open areas of housing compounds, residents recently able to leave their homes for a few hours at a time to walk or buy groceries have generally appeared more dishevelled than usual.
China's strict "dynamic zero" approach to COVID has put hundreds of millions of people in dozens of cities under curbs of varying degrees in an attempt to eliminate the spread of the disease. The curbs are wreaking havoc on the world's second-largest economy even as most countries try to return to normal life despite continued infections.
New bank lending hit the lowest in nearly four and half years in April as the pandemic jolted the economy and weakened credit demand, central bank data showed on Friday.
The Asian Football Confederation said on Saturday that China had pulled out of hosting the 2023 Asian Cup finals due to the COVID crisis. This followed China's cancellation or postponement of numerous international sporting events it was scheduled to hold in the second half of 2022.
The decision on the soccer tournament prompted social media speculation in China that its zero-COVID policy could persist well into next year.
China managed to keep COVID at bay after it was first discovered in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, but has struggled to contain the highly infectious Omicron variant. The head of the World Health Organization said last week China's approach not "sustainable".
But the country is widely expected to stick with its approach at least until the congress of the ruling Communist Party, which is historically in the autumn, where President Xi Jinping is poised to secure a precedent-breaking third five-year leadership term.
Case numbers in Shanghai continued to improve, with 1,369 daily symptomatic and asymptomatic infections reported, down from 1,681 a day earlier.
Importantly, the city reported no new cases outside of quarantined areas after finding one a day earlier. Consistently achieving zero cases outside quarantined areas is a key factor for officials determining when they can reopen the city.
Shanghai has achieved its zero-COVID target in more thinly populated suburban districts and started easing curbs there first, such as allowing shoppers to enter supermarkets.
But it continued to tighten restrictions in many areas over the past two weeks, especially in the city centre, curtailing deliveries and putting up more fencing.
In most of Beijing, restaurants were shut for dining-in and residents have been urged to stay or work from home. Parks and other entertainment venues have been closed, sending many people onto streets or into the gardens of their housing compounds to enjoy fine spring weather.
In the large Chaoyang district, residents were reminded by text message and in some instances by door knocks to get their daily COVID test as the capital scrambles to cut infection chains.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh and Albee Zhang; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by William Mallard)