Government officials in the Chinese city of Shanghai are slowly easing COVID-19 restrictions for select districts after weeks of strict lockdown. Around 4 million people were allowed to go out of their homes Wednesday.

Health officials said the lifting of the strict lockdown and implementation of a controlled lockdown would allow close to 12 million people, or nearly half of the city's 25 million people, to go outdoors. Some districts will remain under hard lockdown, which means residents in those areas are still not permitted to go out.

So far, the city has only reported 3 COVID-19 deaths since the lockdowns began, and most of the cases that were detected were asymptomatic. Health officials said the virus is now largely "under effective control" in large parts of the city, and those parts have now been set to controlled lockdowns.

Residents within the controlled lockdown areas will be allowed to go out, but they will be restricted from traveling to other districts and neighborhoods. Large gatherings, such as parties and sporting events, will still be prohibited.

Even though the number of cases in China is relatively low, the ruling party still enforced its "zero-tolerance" policy to keep infection numbers down throughout the country. As of Wednesday, China reported around 19,927 new cases, with Shanghai accounting for about 95% of the total.

Seven people with COVID-19 reportedly died Tuesday, but the Shanghai municipal health administration said they had died due to other causes, including cancer and heart disease. Only two of those who died were under the age of 60.

Following a surge in illnesses in March, Shanghai and other industrial cities were shut down by the government. Due to the duration and scale of the lockdowns, there were concerns raised about the lack of food and medical supplies in some areas.

The government was also criticized for its "overreaction" to the spike in infections, including how it forced infected but asymptomatic people into cramped quarantine facilities. The lockdowns have negatively affected China's economy. Due to the lockdowns in Shanghai and other industrial areas, the International Monetary Fund lowered its forecast for China's GDP this year to 4.4% from 4.8%.

The IMF's forecast is over half of last year's 8.1% percent growth and below the 5.5% target set by the ruling Communist Party. According to the IMF, China's supply interruptions would certainly amplify supply disruptions abroad and may contribute to inflationary pressures globally.

Local authorities were told by the Ministry of Agriculture on Wednesday to avoid taking any actions that may obstruct farmers' spring planting, which feeds China's 1.4 billion people.