In Shanghai, the gates of residential buildings are locked, and millions of people are running out of food

Masked and cell phone in hand, I step outside before volunteers in hazmat suits can knock. If you miss a call, they will keep knocking until someone answers. Nobody is released.

This huge city of 25 million people is at the center of China’s efforts to eradicate the largest Covid outbreak in the history of the country. No one is allowed to leave their housing estates, even buy food, which means we rely on public or private delivery drivers who are running out of steam due to overwhelming demand. This creation huge pressure on the system – and for many people, the restrictions are more unpleasant than the threat of the virus.

Outside my apartment, community workers in hazmat suits lead me and my neighbors in a socially distancing procession past our locked gates, the only time I’m allowed to leave my apartment. But we were never taken out of the gate – they have been locked with padlocks and bicycle locks for more than three weeks.

As we walk to the blue tent table where the medics are waiting to test, I feel a surge of emotion—relaxed to be let out into the fresh air and spring sunshine, and anxious—what if I test positive? ? I’m worried about being sent to Shanghai’s spartan quarantine system for a few days or weeks. Images of the facilities suggest that I may have encountered cramped, unsanitary conditions with overflowing trash cans, no running water, and filthy public toilets.

But I’m more concerned about what might happen to the Chairman, my rescue dog.

What happens to your pet if you test positive remains a worrying gray area with no clear solution. Horror stories are circulating on the Internet that pets were left at home, and one of them was recently killed with a shovel by a man in a hazmat suit.

If I am quarantined, I hope one of the local veterinarians or community groups will be allowed to take care of my dog. I’ve packed a small bag of the Chairman’s essentials by the door in case anyone can take it if I’m sent.

But this may be unlikely. Except for the essential workers, the whole city is like me, locked up and locked up.

Craving for extra food

At the end of March, before the city was ordered to stay at home, Panicked shoppers left grocery store shelves empty.

Now despair has taken hold.

The video shows people yelling at community workers, begging them for food, saying they are starving. Others show crowds at a quarantined food distribution point fighting over a small supply of vegetables.

In my community, the government delivers food once every few days. Delivery ranges from a box of vegetables and eggs to a vacuum-packed piece of pork or some traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) products. Handouts alone are not enough to feed one person, let alone an entire family, for a day or so.

I ration my food and make the most of what comes in the box, as well as any extra food my community can get my hands on. Lately, most of my meals have consisted of eggs and carrots – you need to get creative.

Many communities have set up group chats with their neighbors on the Chinese social networking app WeChat. There are sometimes deals for group food shopping, but the options are limited. Stores closed, couriers blocked, supply chains disrupted.

CNN's David Culver tries to order extra food on most days, with the residents of his complex hawking food to make up the shortfall.

One of my neighbors writes in a chat: “What should I do if I don’t have food?” A community representative writes back: “There are no group purchases – now there are not enough vegetables.”

I spend most of my days in isolation trying to place a few groceries orders, hoping one of them will arrive. Last week I was awakened by a call just after midnight – one of my orders had indeed appeared.

I urgently tried to contact our public relations officers to help get it back, but after a long day at work, they were asleep. So I had to leave the groceries in a box on the street outside the complex until 6am, hoping that by the time I could get them, nothing would be stolen or damaged. Luckily, he was still there in the morning.

Some of us have resorted to setting up contactless “points of sale” where we exchange food to diversify our diet.

For example, on my way home from a public Covid test, one of my neighbors texted me: she had left a piece of cheese in a shaded area above her bike. When I went for a Covid test later, I took her cheese and replaced it with two oranges. She then picked fruit when she was allowed to take her next Covid test.

The authorities seem to be listening to complaints. Shanghai Vice Mayor Zong Ming gasped at a press conference over the weekend, apologizing to the city’s residents for not living up to expectations. And on Monday, the authorities promised to start easing quarantine in some areas.

Food parcels are being delivered to gated communities, but some people say they don't have enough food.

Anger and an Uncertain Future

Starting from Wuhan, I covered every aspect of this outbreak in China. Early mistreatment and alleged cover-up the original distribution seemed to have been forgotten by the public as the central government moved forward with its “zero covid” politics.

For two years, China has largely managed to contain the virus by closing borders and implementing a sophisticated contact tracing system that uses smartphone technology to track us and our potential exposure to the virus.

Officials have perfected mass testing to quickly process cities of tens of millions of people. And they mostly relied on targeted flash lockdowns — shutting down an area, an office, or even a mall with a confirmed case or close contact inside — in an attempt to avoid shutting down entire cities to minimize social and economic damage.

Entire cities have been shut down in recent months, including Xi’an, Tianjin and Shenzhen, but nothing like Shanghai, where the adrenaline and collective spirit to contain the virus has given way to weariness, frustration and desperation. .

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

From outside my 600-square-foot apartment, I ask myself, is this really happening? In Shanghai, of all places?

A modern city of high-rise buildings and restaurants, Shanghai once rivaled such cosmopolitan centers as Paris and New York. Now, millions of residents are scrambling for essentials from outside 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, combined with the constant uncertainty over the past two years about what kind of severe restrictions may suddenly appear in the name of Covid prevention, many feel themselves more and more disconnected from this city and from each other.

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

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

Mentally. Emotionally. Physically. Is not.

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