Despite continuing to report record numbers of daily cases (more than 25K on Monday and another 22K+ on Tuesday), Shanghai started easing its lockdown on Monday, while the American State Department starting pulling all non-essential personnel from its consulate in the city of more than 25 million - a decision that greatly angered the Chinese government.
City officials announced on Monday that they would be easing the lockdown after a tremendous public backlash. From now on, they would be grouping residential units into three risk categories as a step towards allowing "appropriate activity" for those who live in neighborhoods with no positive cases during a two-week stretch.
Authorities insisted they remained committed to a "dynamic zero" strategy - that is, a modified version of the "zero COVID" policy that has been such a spectacular failure in the country, which is presently struggling with its worst COVID outbreak since Wuhan.
Across Shanghai, anger has risen over food shortages, the inability to access medical care and even the killing of pets by COVID workers. But the pullout of diplomats from Shanghai comes as relations between the US and China have soured as the West has pressured China to do more to restrain Russia in its war in Ukraine.
"Many Americans in Shanghai were dismayed to hear of the previous consulate staff departures given the current situation,” said Josef Gregory Mahoney, a professor of politics and international relations at East China Normal University in Shanghai, referring to an earlier announcement that staff could leave.
"This new order will certainly increase the impression that the situation is worsening despite indications to the contrary, or that this is political posturing on behalf of the U.S., or that consulate staff - who are already rather privileged - are unable to stomach the inconveniences that others are required to endure."
The latest US State Department order comes days after Washington said all non-emergency employees and their family members from the consulate in Shanghai were allowed to leave. The department also told Americans to reconsider travel to China due to what it calls an “arbitrary enforcement” of virus restrictions.
"Our change in posture reflects our assessment that it is best for our employees and their families to be reduced in number and our operations to be scaled down as we deal with the changing circumstances on the ground," an Embassy spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday, noting that staffers and their relatives would leave on commercial flights.
"The United States has no higher priority than the safety and security of US citizens overseas, including Mission China’s personnel and their families," the spokesperson added.
CCP authorities weren't exactly thrilled about America's decision to withdraw.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said they deplored the way the US has politicized the departure of staff from the consulate.
"The US should immediately stop attacking China’s epidemic protocol and policy, stop political manipulation, and stop its smears and attacks on China," Zhao said “Relevant Chinese departments and local governments have been providing assistance and convenience to foreign diplomatic and consular personnel in China as much as possible in accordance with relevant international conventions and policies," he said.
As for Shanghai's decision to ease policy, some social media users criticized the easing move as risky at a time of record new daily cases, while others said the city had no choice.