Shanghai lockdown: “We’re more scared of government measures than of the virus”

Shanghai health workers try to stem the spread of omicron.
Shanghai health workers try to stem the spread of omicron.
Image: Reuters/Aly Song
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Guo Ziwei, who lives in Shanghai’s normally bustling Jingan district, is waking up at the crack of dawn to order food. But since authorities put China’s financial capital in lockdown nine days ago, he’s only gotten lucky one day.

“You get up at 5:55am and you try to order at 6am. You keep mashing the buy button and receiving errors but hoping it’ll go through. By 6:05 all groceries are gone,” said the 37-year-old business development director.

Shanghai residents were originally told the lockdown would last four days, but on Tuesday, the city extended it indefinitely. While China has shut down major urban areas before, including tech hub Shenzhen last month, disruptions have not been as severe as in Shanghai, a shock to residents of the rich and usually well-managed city.

“The supply chain is completely locked down, too,” Guo said. “Previously, basic food and grocery delivery worked. The assumption going into this lockdown was that those would still be working.”

By now, the initial supplies he bought are dwindling, and at this point, it’s unclear when the city will reopen.

“The worst part of the lockdown is not knowing when they are letting us go out,” said Yang Yang, a 31-year-old tech professional. ”Now they are saying the lockdown might be longer than a month. How am I supposed to focus on work when I don’t know if I have enough groceries to make food for my family?”

Shanghai residents scramble for food

To get around shortages, neighbors have banded together to buy in bulk. Neighborhood committees, volunteer groups that usually deal with issues like noise complaints, are now compiling individual apartment orders via WeChat. At first, there was a wide array of items, from KFC to wine. But now staples like vegetables and bottled water have become luxuries.

Videos of people rioting reportedly over the lack of food have circulated on Chinese social media, but have been quickly censored. Now there are signs authorities are cracking down on group buying, forcing residents to rely on government food distribution.

“The group buys are no longer allowed according to our compound management,” Guo said, adding he received some basic provisions like duck and eggs from the government. “We also saw a government message saying that this is not true, but the group buys don’t work anymore. It’s hard to know what to believe.”

Child separation and pet killings among complaints

Residents also say they live in fear of being sent to cramped quarantine centers if they test positive. Until recently, the government was quarantining covid-positive children away from their non-infected parents, a practice it appears to have rolled back somewhat in response to public outcry.

At least one dog was filmed being beaten to death in the street after its owner was sent to a center.

Some desperate residents are taking to social media to plead for help. In one viral video, a Pudong woman who tested positive asks not to be taken away from her still breastfeeding son.

“I tried to call the disease control, but they don’t answer the phones,” she said. “This virus is not scary, the scary thing is being in a complete lockdown. I’m afraid my four-month old won’t be able to take it. If there’s any justice, please share this.”

For now, the city remains committed to its zero-covid approach, even as new daily cases reach the tens of thousands.