While much of the world lifted pandemic restrictions this spring, China did the opposite. His “zero Covid” approach seeks to eliminate the virus with extreme limitations. Officials began locking down Shanghai, China’s largest city, in March after cases of the Omicron variant were discovered; Authorities announced just this week that they hope to fully lift restrictions next month. I called my colleague Vivian Wang, who is responsible for China, to find out how the residents of Shanghai are doing.
What does a lockdown look like more than two years into the pandemic?
Shanghai went into lockdown citywide without officials saying so. They announced they would lock down half of the city for just a few days and then the other half for a few days after that. But after locking the first half, they wouldn’t let it open again.
In the strictest areas, you were not allowed to leave your apartment. You’ve actually seen officials install bars or gates around the entrances of apartment buildings. Residents were locked up.
Because of the suddenness, people were not prepared. There have been many reports of people struggling to get food, medicine and other supplies.
Even now that people are allowed to move more freely in lower-risk areas, many of them need government-issued ID to go to work or to go outside.
So the officers are keeping an eye on everyone.
Yes. Chinese cities have neighborhood committees – local officials responsible for day-to-day tasks like sanitation. During lockdown, they became residents’ primary connection to the outside world. They are responsible for facilitating the delivery of groceries and medicines and enforcing tests and stay-at-home requirements. Some residents who had trouble getting basic necessities accused them of being incompetent, lazy or corrupt.
We saw residents protest. Was anger greater in Shanghai than in other parts of China?
People have been much more vocal about how lockdown is hurting them.
Local residents banged on pots and pans or sometimes took to the streets to confront local officials. People angrily called local officials, recorded these conversations and shared them online. There was a table circulating, a kind of black list, which said: “These are the responsible neighborhood committees; these are the incompetents.”
It sounds like the residents are banding together to get through.
There were notable examples of community solidarity. When Shanghai first went into lockdown, you could only order groceries if you organized a group purchase with your neighbors. Many delivery drivers have been quarantined and suppliers have not had time for smaller orders. You’ve heard people – often women and mothers – talk about getting up at 5 or 6 in the morning to place a big order because otherwise things would be sold out. You’ve seen some local residents say, “Thank God we have this volunteer network because our local officials are failing us.”
How did the officials react?
The government has acknowledged that Shanghai was not handled well at first. A few weeks into the lockdown, officials rolled out a system that allowed some movement. It was a reaction to cases being dropped. But it was also a response to anger and a growing understanding that officials couldn’t lock down 26 million people indefinitely.
What about the economic costs? I saw that last month no cars were sold in Shanghai because the dealerships were closed.
Factories were closed. Shops were closed. China is still an economy dependent on manufacturing and construction, so these workers cannot work from home. They’re badly paid in the best of times, and now they’re leaving without pay.
Has anything changed since the announcement that officials have contained the outbreak?
There are still many areas that are subject to severe restrictions. Many people are still unable to leave their condominiums or receive deliveries.
China expelled several US journalists in 2020, including our colleagues, and has been slow to issue visas since then. You’ve been to Hong Kong and will be traveling to Beijing soon – how do you cover Shanghai from afar?
Western journalists are skeptical. I send a lot of messages that don’t come back. I speak to people who don’t agree with me using their name, or who agree at first but then say they don’t want it after speaking to their employer. That’s why we’re doing our best to be transparent about what we can and can’t say about what’s going on in China.
More about Vivian Wang: Growing up outside of Chicago, she began reporting by writing a family newsletter, which she gave out at Thanksgiving dinner when she was a girl. She joined The Times Metro editorial team in 2017 and began covering China in 2020 and speaks Mandarin and Spanish.
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In 2017, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus ended their 146-year run. The nostalgic circus has faced declining sales and a growing public dislike for the exotic animal performances – lions, tigers and elephants – that were once synonymous with its show. The company announced yesterday that it would return animal-free in 2023, reports Sarah Maslin Nir.
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