Shanghai officials pledge to ease COVID restrictions on truck drivers that hamper food supply and trade

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BEIJING (AP) — Shanghai officials vowed on Friday to ease virus checks on truck drivers who are hampering food supplies and trade as they try to revive the local economy as millions of people are still confined to their homes.

A deputy mayor, Zhang Wei, pledged “every effort” to address issues that have sparked complaints about lack of access to food and fears that the shutdown, which has locked down most of the 25 million Shanghai residents at home, disrupts global trade.

On Friday, the government reported 11 coronavirus deaths and 17,529 new cases in Shanghai. All but 1,931 of the new cases had no symptoms. The Shanghai cases accounted for 95% of the 18,598 new cases on the Chinese mainland, of which 2,133 had symptoms.

Shanghai leaders are scrambling to soften the impact of a “zero-COVID” strategy that shut down most businesses from March 28.

Authorities have attempted to increase food deliveries and the flow of goods to Shanghai’s port, the world’s busiest, by creating electronic passes allowing truckers to cross city and provincial borders, Zhang said at a press conference, according to state media.

Truck drivers have been stymied by restrictions that require regular virus testing and multiple checkpoints, leading to long waits and reports that some shipping companies and drivers are avoiding Shanghai.

Under the new system, drivers are allowed through if they have a negative virus test in the last 48 hours, no fever and a ‘green health code’ on their smartphone that shows they are not have not traveled to areas where outbreaks have occurred, according to Wu Chungeng, director of the Highway Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation.

“All localities should release them directly,” Wu said, according to the dispatches.
Meanwhile, some 80,000 small businesses in government-owned buildings in Shanghai will get six months’ free rent, director of the city’s commission for state-owned assets Bai Tinghui said during the meeting. press conference with Zhang, according to state media.

The government has provided 65 billion yuan ($10 billion) in “support loans” to Shanghai businesses and distributed other financial aid, online newspaper The Paper reported, citing city officials.

Officials at the press conference said the port of Shanghai was operating normally. But the daily cargo volume of the equivalent of 100,000 containers, quoted by the media, is down nearly 30% from the normal level of 140,000 containers.

Authorities began easing restrictions last week and allowed more than 10 million people to leave their homes. Millions more are still in areas where residents are barred from leaving.

Supermarkets and pharmacies are reopening. On Friday, some people were biking and skateboarding.

Some people who are allowed out are banned from leaving their neighborhood. Others can move around the city, but many have nowhere to go. Some factories and other businesses are reopening, but most offices, shops and businesses are closed.

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