Mask on, cell phone in hand, I’m out before the volunteers in protective suits have time to call. If you miss the call, they will keep calling until someone answers. Nobody is exempt.
Outside my apartment, community workers dressed in hazmat suits lead me and my neighbors in a socially distanced procession past our locked front door, the only time I am allowed to leave my apartment. But they never get us out the door; it has been sealed with locks and bike locks for over three weeks.
As we walk to a blue-tented table where doctors are waiting to administer the test, I feel a rush of emotions: relief to be able to get outside and into the spring sun, and anxiety: what if I test positive? ? I worry that I will be sent to the spartan Shanghai quarantine system for days or weeks. Images of the facility suggest it could face overcrowded and unsanitary conditions with overflowing garbage cans, no running water, and dirty communal toilets.
But I’m more worried about what might happen to the president, my rescue dog.
If I am taken into quarantine, I hope that one of the local vets or community groups can take care of my dog. I’ve packed a small bag with the president’s essentials that’s by the door in case someone can carry it if I get fired.
But that may be unlikely. Aside from essential workers, the entire city is like me, on lockdown and lockdown.
fighting for extra food
Now, despair has set in.
Videos show people yelling at community workers, begging for food and 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 box of vegetables and eggs, to a vacuum-sealed pork joint, or some Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Leaflets alone are not enough to feed one person, let alone an entire family, beyond a day or so.
I ration my food and make the most of what comes into the box and any additional food my community has been able to get. Lately, most of my meals have been a combination of eggs and carrots; you have to be creative.
Many communities have set up group chats with their neighbors on the Chinese social media app WeChat. From time to time there are offers for group food purchases, but the options are limited. Stores are closed, delivery drivers blocked, supply chains disrupted.
One of my neighbors writes in the chat group: “What should I do if I don’t have food?” The community liaison replies, “No group buying; vegetables are in short supply now.”
I spend much of my days in lockdown 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 shown up.
I urgently tried to contact our community liaison officers to help recover it, but after a long day of work they were asleep. So, I had to leave the purchases in a box on the street outside the complex until 6am, hoping nothing would be stolen or spoiled by the time I could get it. Fortunately, it was still there in the morning.
Some of us have resorted to creating contactless “drop off points,” where we trade food to vary our diets.
For example, after walking home from a community covid test, one of my neighbors texted me: she had left a block of cheese in the shaded spot on her bike. When I headed to my Covid test later, I took the cheese from her and replaced it with two oranges. He then picked the fruit when he was allowed out for his next Covid test.
The authorities seem to be listening to the complaints. Over the weekend, Shanghai Vice Mayor Zong Ming choked up at a press conference and apologized to city residents for falling short of expectations. And on Monday, authorities promised to begin easing lockdowns in some areas.
Anger and an uncertain future
For two years, China has largely succeeded 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 perfected mass testing with capabilities to rapidly process cities with populations in the tens of millions. And they have mostly relied on quick, targeted lockdowns — shutting down a neighborhood, an office, or even a mall with a confirmed case or close contact inside, trying to avoid shutting down entire cities to minimize social and economic damage.
In recent months, entire cities have gone into lockdown, including Xi’an, Tianjin and Shenzhen, but nothing on the scale of Shanghai, where the adrenaline rush and community spirit to contain the virus has been replaced by fatigue, frustration and despair. .
From the confines of my 600-square-foot apartment, I wonder, is this really happening? In Shanghai, of all places?
Shanghai, a modern city of skyscrapers and restaurants, once rivaled cosmopolitan centers like Paris and New York. Now, millions of residents are struggling to meet their basic needs from the confines of their homes.
That’s not to say that life in Shanghai won’t resume as before, but the actions, or inaction, of the last few weeks, coupled with the constant uncertainty of the last two years about the harsh restrictions that could suddenly emerge in the name of Covid prevention, leaves many feeling increasingly disconnected from this city and each other.
On Monday, the US State Department ordered non-essential consular staff and their families to leave the city, citing the surge in Covid-19 cases and the impact of restrictions put in place to contain it.
Most of the expats I know have already left or are determined to do so. The reason? “This is not sustainable” is a common refrain.
Mentally. emotionally. Physically. It is not.