The Great Shanghai Shutdown

Shanghai is under lockdown. As I write this, I’m sitting in my apartment, awaiting the call to go downstairs and take my twelfth COVID-19 test. These nucleic acid tests are the only time I’ve been through my front door for eight days straight. I haven’t left my apartment complex since… sometime in March? The days are blurring together. Nerves are frayed. Food supplies are low. And there is no end in sight.

UPDATE: as of June 1st, Shanghai is back open (sort of)! Let’s hope it stays that way…

Stupid Omicron Shutdown Shanghai

Vendors selling fruit through a gate during Shanghai's lockdown -
The glory days, when we could buy food through our compound gate.

Things started well enough. The Omicron variant escaped from a quarantine facility for international arrivals. It wreaked havoc on the city, but things were alright. Rather than closing down the entire city, the government just closed things down block by block. Even if your neighborhood was closed, you could still walk around your apartment complex. You could still get food.

Then it all went to shit.

Shanghai announced a staggered shutdown of both sides of the Huangpu River. Pudong (that’s the east side) was supposed to be shut down for four days at the end of March. Puxi (that’s the west side, where the cool kids live) would get shut down from April 1st through the 5th. They did a bunch of mass testing and we even got a free bag of food.

But then cases started to skyrocket. Yesterday, for example, there were over 1,000 active cases and over 22,000 symptomless cases. That’s more than the entire population of the town where I went to high school.

That still might not be much compared to the United States or other places. But China has a zero COVID policy, and they can’t call it a zero COVID policy if there are 23,000 cases in a day. Even if most of them are asymptomatic and all but one of the active cases are all mild.

And so, they just decided to completely lockdown Shanghai…forever?

All Shut Down and Nothing to Eat

Empty street in Shanghai during shutdown.
The empty street in front of my apartment building. It’s usually bustling.

Zero COVID isn’t in itself a terrible idea. At first, I comforted myself by thinking that while it’s annoying to not be able to go anywhere, I’m potentially saving the life of someone with a compromised immune system, right?

But, if you’re going to force people to stay in their homes for a week, you need to make sure they can eat.

The first free bag of groceries was plenty for two people to eat well for about four days. Not nearly enough for a family. Not nearly enough to last a week or more. Even billionaires are having trouble getting food.

This wouldn’t be a problem if we were able to order food for delivery, as was promised. However, the government also locked down all of Shanghai’s restaurant workers, grocery stockers, delivery drivers, and food distribution guys, too.

Stores start opening at 6:00 am. Everybody in Shanghai wakes up and gets their phones ready at 5:30. The stores completely sell out by 6:05. I was lucky and able to get some apples and oranges, once. Sometimes, though, you order food and it just never shows up. No explanation.

Since then, communities have started doing group ordering. That means that someone in your apartment calls up a farm or distribution center or whatever and tries to organize all the neighbors to get a big bulk order. We bought some eggs that way, and they were the best eggs I’ve eaten in my life.

However, the group orders are just being organized by regular people in their apartments. Nobody knows about logistics or sometimes even how to organize paying for this stuff. Not to mention having to sift through hundreds of messages in a language you don’t understand to try and figure out how you need to pay for your toilet paper.

It’s a mess.

I’m lucky enough to have a well-paying job and no kids. Prices are skyrocketing, because capitalism, and food is way more expensive than it’s ever been. I saw someone selling 10 apples for 100 kuai. That’s like $1.57 an apple, which is way more than what apples should cost here.

There are people who haven’t eaten in days.

If Anybody Knows What’s Going On, They Aren’t Telling Us

The government has since promised to ease restrictions on food distribution. There still aren’t many answers. The general response from authority figures seems to be “we don’t know, figure it out yourselves.”

We often don’t even know what’s going on with our COVID tests. Our building was told to be ready to go downstairs for nucleic acid testing at 2:00 pm. It is now 5:30 and there’s been no word whatsoever.

A worker disinfects a building during Shanghai lockdown

Once, somebody just knocked on our door out of nowhere and handed us a cotton swab and a self-testing kit.

I know someone who actually tested positive a week ago. She got a message from the authorities at 3 am to pack her bags and head to a quarantine facility. As of today, she’s still in her apartment and has since completely recovered, though she has yet to take another test to confirm. Nobody’s been in contact with her to tell her what the hell she’s supposed to do or what’s going on.

The official information also keeps constantly changing and contradicting itself.

At the start of the outbreak, the government issued multiple assurances that Shanghai would absolutely not go into a city-wide shutdown. A week later, Shanghai is in the middle of a massive city-wide shutdown.

We were told that food supplies were fine and that there would be no issues with deliveries. In fact, the government specifically said NOT to horde food. Terrible advice considering how things have worked out.

Of course, it’s tough to manage a city of 25 million people. But you’d think someone somewhere would at least have one solid answer about something at some point.

Shanghai Shutdown Madness

People are getting upset, to say the least.

COVID-19 online test results in Shanghai, China taken during shutdown.
These test results aren’t the only negative lately.

Every day somebody in our neighborhood WeChat group starts popping off about one or more of these issues. Often aggressively complaining directly to our neighborhood’s local Communist Party representative. The guy is kind of a dick.

Or, as one neighbor put it “傻逼,” which roughly translates to “foolish cunt.” (They didn’t say that part to him directly, by the way.)

I hear shouting outside my window at least once per day. Generally, it’s an old person who has just decided to say fuck it and defy the order to stay inside. A security guard will come up and tell them to go back in, and then that escalates into a shouting match. Everyone hangs their head out the window to watch. We take our entertainment where we can get it.

The most common sentiment I hear is something along the lines of “the government doesn’t care about us, they’ve just left us to fend for ourselves.”

Things have also taken a bit of a darker turn in some cases. A woman killed herself jumping out the window a few days ago. There have probably been more suicides, but that was the one I heard about.

And… somebody beat a corgi to death.

I’m doing okay overall, but it hasn’t been easy. I’d rank this situation as easily one of the top five most difficult things I’ve ever had to deal with. I’m trying to do self-care as much as possible, exercising, meditating, and all that. I also just randomly burst into tears.

Randomly bursting into tears is an act of self-care, too.

It isn’t All Bad. Really. I Swear.

To be honest, it’s been really hard to find the silver lining in the dark cloud that’s been hanging over Shanghai this last week. But I will say it has been really nice to see regular people coming together to help each other out as much as they can during this super difficult time. I wrote most of this blog post in a miserable mood, feeling like life was out of control and worried about where my next meal was coming from.

Then, like a beam of sunshine suddenly shining down from the storm clouds, one of our neighbors posted a message in English in our building group chat asking how we were doing.

Within minutes, our next-door neighbor hooked us up with a vegetable vendor who secured us a few bags of fresh veggies. An elderly woman came down and gave us a bunch of onions and cabbage. She refused any payment of money or eggs.

We’d never met any of these people before. Yet, they went out of their way to ensure that two strangers were fed. Not just any strangers, but foreigners from a country whose government is growing increasingly hostile to their own.

If nothing else, there’s a lesson here about the human spirit, and how people will come together to help each other during crisis situations. This whole thing has, weirdly, really reaffirmed my faith in humanity.

Today I’ve got a full stomach, and despite being stuck in this absolute shit show of a situation, I’m actually feeling pretty optimistic about life. I’ll be spending the rest of the Great Shanghai Shutdown basking in the warmth of my neighbors, enjoying my vegetables, and waiting patiently to go outdoors for my next nucleic acid test.

Statues wearing surgical masks in Shanghai, China during COVID-19

What was life like in China during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

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