In Shanghai, residential doors are locked and millions lack food

Mask and mobile phone in hand, I get out before the volunteers in protective gear have time to knock. If you miss the call, they will keep knocking until someone answers. No one is exempt.

This huge city of 25 million people is at the center of China’s efforts to eradicate the biggest Covid epidemic ever recorded in the country. No one is allowed to leave their residential compounds, even to buy food, which means we rely on government or private delivery drivers exhausted by massive demand. This puts a huge strain on the system – and for many people the restrictions are more of a pain than the threat of the virus.

Outside my apartment, community workers in hazmat gear lead me and my neighbors in a socially distanced procession past our locked front door, the only time I’m allowed out from my apartment. But they never get us out of the door — it’s been sealed with padlocks and bike locks for more than three weeks.

As we walk to a table covered in a blue tent where doctors wait to administer the test, I feel a surge of emotions – relief at being allowed out into the fresh air and spring sunshine, and anxiety – what if i test positive? I fear I will be sent to the Spartan quarantine system in Shanghai for days or weeks. Pictures of the facilities suggest I might face cramped and unsanitary conditions with overflowing bins, no running water and dirty communal toilets.

But I’m more worried about what may happen to Chairman, my rescue dog.

What happens to your pet if you test positive remains a troubling gray area with no clear solution. Horror stories are circulating online of pets being left behind and one was recently killed with a shovel by someone in a hazmat suit.

If I am quarantined, I hope one of the local vets or community groups will be allowed to take care of my dog. I have prepared a small bag of essentials for the President which is near the door in case someone can take him if I am fired.

But that may be unlikely. Aside from essential workers, the whole city is like me, locked down and locked down.

Rushing to find extra food

In late March, before the city was ordered to stay at home, panicked shoppers left grocery store shelves empty.

Now despair has set in.

Videos show people yelling at community workers, begging them for food, saying they are starving. Others show crowds at a quarantined food distribution site fighting over a small delivery of vegetables.

In my community, the government delivers food once every few days. Deliveries range from a can of vegetables and eggs to a vacuum-sealed piece of pork or traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Donations alone are not enough to feed a person, let alone an entire family, beyond a day or two.

I ration my food and make the most of what comes in the box and any extra food my community has been able to procure. Most of my meals lately have been a combination of eggs and carrots – you have to get creative.

Many communities have set up group chats with their neighbors on Chinese social media app WeChat. Sometimes there are offers for group food purchases, but the options are limited. Shops are closed, delivery drivers locked down, supply chains disrupted.

CNN's David Culver tries to order extra food almost every day, and people in his compound swap food to make up for shortages.

One of my neighbors writes in the discussion group: “What should I do if I have no food?” The Community Liaison Officer replies, “There is no group buying – vegetables are scarce now.”

I spend a lot of my quarantine days trying to place multiple grocery orders, hoping one will arrive. Last week I was woken up by a call just after midnight – one of my orders had actually arrived.

I urgently tried to reach our Community Liaison Officers to help get him back, but after a long day at work they were sleeping. So I had to leave the groceries in a box on the street outside the compound until 6am, hoping nothing was taken or spoiled by the time I could get it. Fortunately, he was still there in the morning.

Some of us have resorted to creating contactless “drop off points”, where we swap food to vary our diets.

For example, after walking home from a community Covid test, one of my neighbors messaged me: she had left a block of cheese in the shade above her bike. When I headed for my Covid test later, I took his cheese and replaced it with two oranges. She then collected the fruit when she was allowed out for her next Covid test.

The authorities seem to hear the complaints. Over the weekend, Shanghai Vice Mayor Zong Ming choked up during a press conference, apologizing to the city’s residents for failing to live up to expectations. And on Monday, authorities promised to start easing lockdowns in some areas.

Food parcels are being delivered to locked residential compounds, but some people say they don't have enough to eat.

Anger and uncertain future

From Wuhan, I covered all aspects of this outbreak in China. The early mismanagement and alleged cover-up of the initial spread appeared to have been forgotten by the public as the central government forged ahead with its “zero-Covid” policy.

For two years, China has been largely successful in keeping the virus out, closing borders and introducing a seemingly sophisticated contact tracing system that uses smartphone technology to track us and our potential exposure to the virus.

Officials have honed mass testing with capabilities to rapidly process cities of tens of millions of people. And they’ve mostly relied on targeted instant lockdowns — shutting down a neighborhood, office or even mall with a confirmed case or close contact inside — trying to avoid closing. entire cities to minimize social and economic damage.

In recent months, entire cities have been locked down – including Xi’an, Tianjin and Shenzhen – but nothing on the scale of Shanghai, where the adrenaline and community spirit of containing the virus has been replaced by fatigue, frustration and despair.

Lockdowns in Shanghai and other Chinese cities pose a growing threat to the economy

From the confines of my 600 square foot apartment, I wonder, is this really happening? In Shanghai, of all places?

A modern city of skyscrapers and restaurants, Shanghai once rivaled cosmopolitan hubs like Paris and New York. Today, millions of residents scramble for basic necessities from the compound of their homes.

This is not to say that life in Shanghai will not resume as before, but the actions – or inaction – of the past few weeks, coupled with the continued uncertainty of the past two years about the severe restrictions that could suddenly surface on behalf of Covid prevention, leaves many feeling increasingly disconnected from this city and from each other.

On Monday, the US State Department ordered non-essential consular staff and their families to leave the city, citing the spike in Covid-19 cases and the impact of restrictions imposed to contain it.

Most of the expats I know have already left or are determined to leave. The reason? “It’s not sustainable” is a common refrain.

Mentally. Emotionally. Physically. It’s not.

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