There is a strange vibe hanging over Shanghai. People are afraid. The two-month long COVID-19 lockdown in the Spring of 2022 has left its mark. It comes up in most conversations I have, and the biggest concern people have is the lack of rhyme or reason. Lockdowns can happen spontaneously with no reason given and you may find yourself without food or medication quarantined into your apartment for days. This is making folks very jittery, and a lot of foreigners have left China because of it.
During the Spring lockdown things were especially perilous because nobody was prepared for it. During the first two weeks the government was adamant that citizens shouldn’t hamster, but folks ran out of food quickly and couldn’t order it anymore from their local supermarkets. Even if you could order, you weren’t guaranteed that your order would show up. I heard tragic stories about folks trying to get medical help for their newborns and because the newborn had a slight fever (over 37.1c/98.8F), as babies often do, they couldn’t be treated in a regular hospital and a doctor wouldn’t see the kid. This is all because fever is one of the symptoms of COVID-19. I also heard that over the counter medication like ibuprofen and aspirin are not available because they can be used to suppress fever and circumvent COVID-19 detection measures such as the temperature sensors that are installed at malls and offices entrances.
After a few weeks of the Spring lockdown folks got together and started putting together bigger orders that were worthwhile for local farmers and suppliers to fulfill. It was a stressful time during which you weren’t always guaranteed where your next meal was coming from.
The part that made people fearful weren’t the actual government rules. It was the additional rules set by the compound or building masters. They have a lot of autonomy and implement their own rules based on their interpretation of the COVID-19 situation at hand and often without any Legal backing. This causes a lot of randomness and uncertainty. Some folks got so fed up with these local regulations that they started breaking them on purpose, like going for an outside stroll, just to see what would happen. They were threatened by the block elder with calling the police but those were empty threats and folks were ok.
There is also another form of social disobedience that has become popular, and it consists of taking as many COVID-19 tests as you can. With over 5000 free test points across the city, folks are stopping at each test site to get tested. I heard of one person who managed to get 17 tests in a single day. The idea behind this protest is to overload the testing system but I seriously doubt it is effective, the Chinese government can easily increase the batch size from 10 to 20 or even more if it were a serious problem. I guess it makes the perpetrator feel good because it’s something they can do to frustrate a system over which they have no control.
Right now, the situation is mostly fine in Shanghai. It is buzzing as usual, and restaurants are open for business. However, folks are worried that things may return to the full lock downs in an instant notice. Yet folks are also hopeful that the regulations will change soon, and they clasp on to just the slightest rumor. I’ve grown skeptical of these rumors because I’ve been hearing them since I was in China last year. They always state that things will get better soon yet they keep getting worse.
I have one more week in Shanghai and then I’m going to Hangzhou followed by a highspeed train ride to Beijing. Beijing is almost impossible for regular Chinese citizen to go to. They can’t get a Beijing green health code. Interestingly, I can, and I’ve been told that is because I’m a foreigner. Beijing does have about 100 new cases a day and I keep getting messages on WeChat from my favorite restaurants that they are changing to delivery only because of COVID-19 prevention rules. I’ll keep monitoring the situation, if things get too crazy, I may stay in Shanghai.
It does make you wonder how long this situation can go on. It certainly feels a lot less upbeat than last year.