SHANGHAI - China's financial centre of Shanghai reported more than 25,000 new coronavirus infections as authorities began on Monday to shape an exit plan from a lockdown of its 25 million residents, many of them chafing at the human cost of such quarantines.
Some areas are struggling to find food and medicine after spending more than three weeks locked down in China's battle to contain its biggest COVID-19 outbreak since coronavirus was first discovered in central Wuhan in late 2019.
As it tries to get parts of the city moving again, the government has divided residential units into three categories.
These consist of 7,624 areas that are still sealed off, while a group of 2,460 is subject to "controls" after a week of no new infections, and 7,565 "prevention areas" that will be opened up after two weeks of no positive cases.
City government official Gu Honghui said Shanghai would make "dynamic" adjustments to the residential classification system as he vowed greater efforts to minimise the impact of curbs on ordinary people living in China's most populous city.
"We also hope all citizens and friends will continue to support and cooperate with the city's epidemic prevention and control work," Gu told a news briefing.
Those living in "prevention areas" can now move around their neighbourhoods, but must observe social distancing and could be sealed off again if there are new infections, he added.
However, a "dynamic clearance" policy remains Shanghai's "best option", said Liang Wannian, the head of the National Health Commission's working group on COVID-19.
It was misleading to characterise Omicron as "big flu" and lowering China's guard would expose its huge elderly population to risk, especially as the virus mutates, Liang said on a visit to the eastern city.
"If we lie flat, the epidemic would just be a disaster for these kinds of vulnerable people," the People's Daily newspaper of the ruling Communist Party quoted Liang as saying.
The city faces pressure not only to curb local transmissions but halt the spread to other regions, he added.
Shanghai added 25,173 new asymptomatic infections on Sunday, up from 23,937 the previous day, although symptomatic cases edged down to 914 from 1,006.
(Reporting by David Stanway, Engen Tham and the Shanghai and Beijing newsrooms; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)