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«The residential complex is locked down, anyone who tries to leave gets arrested.» A month of lockdown for millions of Shanghai residents

Alyona Koroleva

Shanghai, a city of 26 million people, has been closed for a month for a total quarantine. Getting a covid test is the only way out of the apartment for most residents. Even if the test is negative, you have to go back into the apartment and wait until no one else in the house is found to have the coronavirus. People don't have enough food, delivery services are intermittent, and any complaints from residents on social media are blocked and deleted, interlocutors told The Insider.


ALL CARDS
  • «We've already lost hope of getting out, the government is waiting for zero morbidity.»

  • «It's as if all other diseases except the coronavirus have been canceled, and people are dying from them.»

  • «Any residents' complaints about quarantine are being blocked and deleted.»

«We've already lost hope of getting out, the government is waiting for zero morbidity.»

Elizabeth, Shanghai

The first ten days after the April 1 total lockdown were the most difficult. In March, we were also periodically locked down, but for a few days and at intervals.

Almost immediately it became difficult to get food. Of course, the government provided vegetables, fruit, and other food. Two weeks into the lockdown, they started sending us more food. But in a huge city like Shanghai, of course, supply disruptions do happen. That's why there are those who are literally starving.

But, in my opinion, that's not the main problem, it's how the authorities treat people - like cattle. People who dare to go outside for a breather are literally herded back in like cows, they are surrounded and shouted at with loudspeakers. In general, this whole system is very unpleasant. If there is a confirmed case of coronavirus in your apartment complex, you have to stay home for 7 days without going outside. If it's in your building, you have to stay in quarantine for 14 days.

We live in a complex of 10 buildings, each about 35 floors high. Almost every day we have to go downstairs to see the doctor. We've been sitting at home since April 1, and the endless testing still continues. We think the tests are the reason for so many confirmed cases. And we've already lost hope of ever getting out of the house. I mean, the government wants the morbidity rate to be zero.

People's nerves are fraying. Some pets have been killed by some horrible, ignorant people because they thought that pets belonging to people infected with the coronavirus could carry the infection.

They killed a few dogs because they thought they were infected too and could carry the infection

«It's as if all other diseases except the coronavirus have been canceled, and people are dying from them.»

Artem, Shanghai

I've been in Shanghai for three years, and for a total of 10 years in China. The partial lockdown started on March 10. There are areas where people have been locked down for almost two months. The citywide lockdown was supposed to proceed in stages. The city was divided into the eastern and western parts, with the border running along the river. All areas east of the river were to be locked down on March 26-27 until April 1, and to reopen after a general multi-stage test. Then the western part was to be locked down.

Ultimately, on April 1, lockdown was not lifted in the eastern part and the western part was locked down. I am in the west, and by April 5 everyone was supposed to be tested and released, but that did not happen - neither the eastern nor the western part opened, and as a result all of Shanghai has been in lockdown for almost a month.

I stayed indoors for almost 30 days. Suspicions of infection in the area began in mid-March - first we were locked up for two days, then opened, then locked up again for four days, then opened, then an asymptomatic case was discovered, and I've been locked up since March 27. Most of the city's population has been alternately quarantined since early March.

Most of the city's population has been quarantined since early March

The number of suicides has increased, as it always does all over the world during lockdowns. As for quarantine rules, each neighborhood decides for itself what can and cannot be allowed. There's a fair amount of self-governance here. In my compound, everything is fine - people walk their dogs, they can even go out with their dogs for testing. When they weren't allowed to walk their dogs, the dogs were taken out by volunteers. For the last 22 days we couldn't even leave the apartment - they brought everything to the door, took out the trash. A couple of days ago the quarantine was loosened, and now I can walk around the apartment complex. We can't go out of the building yet, although some people are allowed to do that, albeit on condition that no new cases, including asymptomatic ones, have been found in the complex in 14 days.

All compounds in China have guards and fences. Any apartment complex is always fenced in, plus there are local housing authorities, representatives of municipal committees and medical workers, but you can't tell them from one another, they're all in white suits and it's not clear who's who. They supervise the quarantine.

Medical workers on the streets of Shanghai
Medical workers on the streets of Shanghai

There are food problems. It's not that people are starving, but some food products are hard to get. Food has become much scarcer. There are supposed to be rations and humanitarian aid. They are available in some areas, and they are delivered almost 2-3 times a week, but in our case they arrived three times in 24 days, and the quantity was quite modest, enough food for 1-2 days - vegetables, milk and rice.

You can order food, but it doesn't work very well. Even at the beginning of 2020, restaurants worked as takeaways, you could order, and they delivered everything, but now they don't. Now only a few delivery platforms work, and you can't get any parcels from outside Shanghai. The biggest platforms like JD and Tmall don't work, and the smaller ones that do work just can't handle the influx of customers.

You can act like this: get up in the morning, quickly go to a store while it's opening and try to grab some groceries. If you don't make it in time, you'll end up without food; you'll have to exchange with your neighbors. Barter is widespread, everybody exchanges stuff with one another.

If you don't make it in time, you'll be left without food, you'll have to exchange with your neighbors

I am saved by the large amount of work, although many projects are on hold right now. We produce video content for Chinese social media, but we can't do much right now. We hope they will release us in May, because if we remain in lockdown until June, we could go bankrupt. Many companies have already filed for bankruptcy.

The most unpleasant thing is the ambulance. It's as if all diseases, except the coronavirus, have been canceled, as they had been all over the world, but there is no flexibility at all here. It's unrealistic to get into hospitals by ambulance unless you can prove you really have an emergency. The local committee decides how much of an emergency it is. I have acquaintances who removed their stitches themselves at home after surgery, because in order to get to the hospital, you have to wait, do tests, you can't get back because there's no transportation.

Also, if you've been in the hospital and returned home, you won't be welcomed by your neighbors: after all, you could have gotten an infection while you were there. And if you test positive, all the building residents will have their quarantine terms zeroed out, and you will have to do another 14 days and get tested.

I have a friend who rents an apartment together with a roommate, and the roommate was found to have covid. That friend, as a person who had been in close contact with a sick person, was taken to a covidarium. It's a camp of sorts, built inside an exhibition center. Some people are lucky enough to get into hotels with normal conditions, but most people have to live in those covidariums, like in barracks. He got there without a confirmed diagnosis, they put everybody together, one bunk on top of the other, he got sick, of course, and lay there for a few days with a high fever. The problem is they don't give them any treatment - they just give them some Chinese herbs, but there is no proper treatment, so they stay there until they get better. Unfortunately, no one cares about people infecting each other in those places.

«Any residents' complaints about quarantine are being blocked and deleted.»

Umar, Shanghai

Personally, we received only one box of fruit and vegetables from state supplies. At the beginning of the quarantine, it was very difficult to get anything. Many of my neighbors complained about the lack of food. It was hard to find basic necessities such as water and meat. Toilet paper and other things were also in limited supply.

No one is allowed out of the apartments. You can only take out the trash and go downstairs to take a test. At my apartment complex the rules are not too strict, but the gate outside my friends' building is locked with chains, and there are guards outside the gate. Leaving your apartment complex without permission will get you arrested.

Leaving your apartment complex without permission will get you arrested

People who test positive, even without symptoms, are taken by force to covid hospitals. Many resist because they can't leave their pets at home, for example. At the same time, people with other diseases, perhaps even more serious ones, refuse to be taken to the hospital, and they die. Quarantine centers are huge spaces with temporary sleeping quarters. The authorities simply hold people diagnosed with the virus there by force until they test negative several times. The worst part is that people who don't even have the symptoms have to stay there.

One of the temporary covid hospitals in Shanghai
One of the temporary covid hospitals in Shanghai

Social media are being censored. Any complaints from residents about quarantine are blocked and deleted. A huge number of Chinese people simply do not know what is going on in Shanghai. People who put up an anti-lockdown banner on their gate were arrested.

Huge number of Chinese don't know what's going on in Shanghai because of censorship

I am an English teacher in Shanghai. I'm from the UK but have been here for almost three years. The whole lockdown thing has definitely encouraged me to think about coming home as soon as I can. I exercise, I talk on the phone a lot, my Chinese friends help me navigate local shopping apps. I'm doing pretty well now, even laughing at the absurdity of the situation and the stories I'll be able to tell when I get home. However, some of my friends are really depressed and suffering from the isolation. It puts a lot of pressure on the psyche and harms mental health.

Honestly, we're all really tired and fed up with all this nonsense. In expat group chats, everyone is planning to leave Shanghai or China in general. Because this situation has shown how the authorities can behave, and there is no guarantee that such lockdowns won't happen in the future. This is no way to live.

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