The Shanghai lockdown

At this point, I think everybody has heard about the lockdown in Shanghai, but I will recap it briefly just in case someone doesn’t follow the news: Shanghai, a city with a population of 25 million, has been in lockdown since the beginning of April (in some parts, since the 20th something of March) due to an Omicron outbreak.

It is interesting to remember that, before the lockdown, the local government had declared there would be no lockdown because Shanghai was too important economically speaking or whatever. Someone who said on social media that Shanghai was going to enter lockdown was detained for spreading rumours. There is now a joke in Chinese social media: A guy is walking on the street and a hazmat-clad guard stops him. “What are you doing outside? Don’t you know the whole city is locked down?”. “Locked down? No, I didn’t know. I have been in detention for 3 weeks because I said the city was going to be locked down and I just came out”.

I don’t want to argue if the lockdown is a good idea or not. China had not had a big outbreak since Wuhan and they don’t want to risk having hundreds of thousands of deaths, like other countries had at the beginning of the pandemic. A big majority of Chinese people agree that they need to take a hard stance against outbreaks because their health system would not be able to cope with huge numbers of infections. It would be a good discussion topic to ask why elderly people were not prioritized for vaccination (when I got my shots in Suzhou a year ago, over 60s were discouraged from vaccinating because the Chinese vaccines had not been tested in old people) and why China has until now not imported Western vaccines, which offer better protection.

But in Shanghai, everything has been done in the worst way possible.

They did not want to admit the city was going to be locked down after all, so they said there would be two partial lockdowns: first Pudong (which is the eastern half of Shanghai, a city divided by a river) would be locked for 5 days and then Puxi (the western half) for another 5 days. People prepared supplies for a few days. Then… heheh, the lockdown was extended indefinitely and people found themselves with no food and unable to go outside to buy groceries. Because, in China, lockdown is for real. Don’t even think of going to the supermarket, walking the dog or taking a stroll in the park. People would wake up at 5 or 6 am to try and place an order in online supermarkets. With limited delivery staff, only a handful of people were able to proceed with their order.

Then the local governments in each district started sending emergency relief packs with food and other essentials, but not everybody received them. There were calls from desperate people to the Shanghai hotline or the emergency services because they had no food left. Then some people started receiving dubious packed goods, with rotten food, fake brands imitating well known ones, expiration dates that came from the future and so on. Who knows where the local governments were getting those products from?

Shanghai skyline with groceries. Image by some bored, locked down Shanghainese.

Everybody was complaning about the absolute clusterfuck that were Shanghai pandemic logistics. Every day there were new articles on WeChat that were furiously shared by Chinese netizens, only to see them “harmonized” (i.e. censored) a few hours later. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a video titled The Voices of April (here with English subtitles) in which there were several extracts from real phone conversations. People saying that they didn’t have any food left; a mother crying for help because her child had a fever; a 90 year old man who needed to go to the hospital phoning his community representative, who subsequently told him he was desperate and couldn’t do anything to help him as his superiors were not answering him. But also neighbours helping each other, and police and voluntaries trying to do their best. People who watched it were absolutely in tears (I was, too). When this video, which was not saying anything against the government and didn’t include anything that wasn’t true was deleted, one time after another, because many people reuploaded it, everybody was super angry (although only online, of course, no one went outside to light fires) and started looking for ways to bypass the censorship while talking about the video. One of my WeChat contacts shared a (very timely) video in which Hua Chunying, of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says: “There are 1.4 billion people in China and each of them has their own brain and their own opinions, and each of them also has the right to express their opinions on the internet”. Just WOW, whoever remembered that video and shared it at that precise moment was a frigging genius, haha. By the way, Hua Chunying was referring to that time when Chinese internet users were bashing the clothes brand H&M because they announced they would not be using cotton from Xinjiang.

Message you get in WeChat when trying to open an article that has been “harmonized”.

There was also the fact that everybody who was positive, including very old and disabled people, was sent to a “quarantine camp” even if they were asymptomatic. It seems also close contacts, which were not positive (yet) were sent there (and ended up being positive, of course). In those camps the conditions were quite bad, to say the least, and it seems there wasn’t even any medical staff checking on people. Oh, and at the beginning some brilliant mind thought it was a good idea to put positive children in quarantine alone, away from their negative parents. And then fences started to be erected blocking buildings’ doors (not a fire risk, at all) or in the streets, in case people had not noticed there are actually in lockdown jail.

The truth is, when I reread all that I have just written, I wonder how Shanghai residents are so patient. I think I would have killed someone by now if I was there (or maybe I would phone a poor volunteer and say the word “fuck” 30 times, like this German man).

And now it seems the story is starting in Beijing… but I am sure they have learned their lesson and the mistakes made in Shanghai will not be repeated. Let’s hope so, because it surely doesn’t look like China is going to change strategy any time soon… at least not until the CCP’s meeting in October or November when Xi Jinping is going to be “reelected” for an unprecedented third term.

Many people in Suzhou (which is 80 km away from Shanghai) are documenting their mass COVID tests every day. A colleague shared this picture of her 30th test.