Shanghai to keep COVID curbs as infections outside quarantine rise again

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SHANGHAI, April 21 (Reuters) - Shanghai authorities said on Thursday tough restrictions would remain in place for now even in districts which managed to cut COVID-19 transmission to zero, as the number of cases outside quarantined areas across the city rose again.

That sober assessment came after health officials earlier in the week had fuelled hopes of some return to normal by saying that trends in recent days showed Shanghai had "effectively curbed transmissions".

The central district of Jingan, home to nearly 1 million people and some of the city's flashiest malls, on Thursday morning said it would no longer allow any residents out of their housing compounds citing risks of large gatherings.

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At a regular press conference, the deputy governor of Chongming district, an outlying island area, said most curbs would be kept in place, although it has reported zero cases outside quarantined areas and 90% of its 640,000-or-so residents were now in theory allowed to leave their homes.

Supermarkets would remain shut to shoppers, vehicles would not be allowed on roads without approval, and only one person from each household would be allowed to leave home each day in some towns in Chongming, deputy governor Zhang Zhitong said.

"For those in prevention areas, we have to continue to ensure that they don't become 'free to fly' areas," he said, referring to neighborhoods where residents are allowed to leave their housing compounds.

Shanghai reported 15,861 new local asymptomatic coronavirus cases on Wednesday, down from 16,407 a day earlier. Symptomatic cases stood at 2,634, up from 2,494.

There were 441 new cases outside quarantined areas, up from 390 a day earlier.

A video of a tense interaction between a resident of Jingan district and a neighbourhood committee official was circulated widely on Chinese social media on Wednesday evening.

The resident asks repeatedly why she cannot go outside despite living in an area where leaving home is allowed, only to receive the same answer: "I told you we got a notice." Reuters could not verify the video's authenticity.

EIGHT MORE DEATHS

Eight people with COVID-19 died in Shanghai on Wednesday, authorities said, bringing the death toll of the current outbreak to 25 - all recorded in the past four days.

Many residents have said, however, that a family member had died after catching COVID-19 since early March, but cases had not been included in official statistics, raising doubts over their accuracy.

The Shanghai government did not respond to questions regarding the death toll.

State media reported on Thursday that the Shanghai government was investigating three funeral home officials for refusing to provide funeral services using COVID as an excuse.

Shanghai ordered virtually all residents to stay home at the start of April after COVID-19 cases began to surge. Residents have faced income losses, difficulty getting food, family separations and poor conditions in quarantine.

With public frustration rising, city officials said on Thursday they would look into complaints made by residents over the quality and expiry dates of products such as duck meat and cooking oil provided in government ration packs.

Businesses are beginning to reopen, though they have to operate under "closed loop management", which entails living on site, daily testing and rigorous disinfection. read more

U.S. electric carmaker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) is among 666 companies allowed to resume operations, and its reopening was given generous airtime on state media this week. Economists and industry bodies caution, however, that factories face logistical nightmares and are far from resuming full production.

With most residents of Shanghai stuck at home, the European Union Chamber of Commerce estimated that there were 40-50% less trucks available and fewer than 30% of Shanghai's workforce were eligible to return to work.

Shanghai's banking and insurance regulator urged banks on Thursday to extend loans to firms resuming work.

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Reporting by the Shanghai and Beijing bureaus; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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