The dramatic stories of Shanghai’s confined inhabitants trying to get food

“I paid 400 yuan ($60) for two rotten pork chops,” says an exasperated Will Liu, a resident in Shanghai, who bought these foods online when he was hungry during the city’s second week of covid lockdown.

As China continues its zero covid strategy, Shanghai has entered its fifth week of lockdown, in a bid to eradicate the virus in the country’s financial and business hub, which is home to 25 million people.

Following government guidelines, citizens have to ask for food and water and wait for the government to deliver vegetables, meat and eggs. But the extension of the lockdown overwhelmed delivery services, grocery store websites and even the official distribution of supplies.

The BBC received numerous public and private messages from Shanghai about the difficulties in getting food and medical supplies since the start of the lockdown. Will Liu, 28, is from Taiwan and has been living in Shanghai for almost seven years. He tells the Chinese service of the BBC that he had stockpiled enough food for five days, the length of the original lockdown announced by the government, but then the lockdown was extended.

“The authorities continued to extend the terms of the original five days of closure to make them increasingly longer. Everyone’s life turned upside down”. Will only has a microwave to cook at home, and as the lockdown progressed, he ran out of food.

The government’s food supply has been compromised by the magnitude of the operation

“In the second week of the lockdown, I found a takeaway website that advertised ‘C$400 (US$60) pork chops.’ I was starving, so I placed an order. But the only thing I received was two pieces of rotten meat. I managed to get my money back, but I felt very disappointed by the whole thing”.

Posts about problems accessing food in Shanghai have increased on Weibo and other social platforms in China since the initially partial lockdown began on April 5. ”In our house there are lots of vegetables, and our fridge doesn’t work well, so our only option is to leave these vegetables out. They are about to rot. But we have to. If we don’t, we will starve,” reads one of the messages.

“Today is the twelfth day of Puxi’s (district) lockdown. During these 12 days, I have only been able to buy a 10kg bag of rice in Dingdong (online delivery service)”, Add.

Will learned a few tricks that he says increased his chances of success when ordering food online. “I use a massage gun to touch the mobile screen. It can hit the app a few hundred times a minute, which greatly increases the efficiency of my food orders.” He says.

Shanghai's 25 million people depend on the official food supply
Shanghai’s 25 million people depend on the official food supplyReuters

“My friends and I have received help from friends outside of Shanghai to deal with food shortages. At the moment, we only eat one meal a day”, adds the blogger.

Shanghai recorded some 400,000 covid cases during the current wave. On Sunday, April 24, the daily death toll was 39. Many were elderly and unvaccinated people with underlying health conditions.

In messages sent privately to the website of the Chinese service of the BBCresidents criticized the government’s response to the spread of the omicron variant in the region. Others expressed their disapproval of the Western media coverage.

Within these measures against the covid outbreak, the authorities installed fences to restrict the movements of the population. These green barriers, about two meters high, appeared without prior notice outside buildings where people who are prohibited from moving live, buildings designated as “sealed areas” in which at least one person tested positive for covid -19.

All people living within a “sealed zone” are prohibited from setting foot outside their homes, whether or not they have the virus. It’s not clear why officials started building the fences. A notice dated April 23 from a local authority that is being shared online said it was imposing a “hard quarantine” in some areas.

Will Liu shows off the device he uses to order food when food becomes available
Will Liu shows off the device he uses to order food when food becomes availableWILL LIU

In recent days, images of workers in white hazmat suits sealing the entrances to certain blocks with these fences have spread on Chinese social media. The BBC could not verify these images, but spoke with a foreign national living in Shanghai who said that green fences appeared three days ago in your own residential complex.

The resident, who asked not to be identified, he said the front door of his complex was chained three weeks ago after he believes one of his neighbors tested positive for the virus. But on Thursday he said workers installed a new barrier without warning. “There is a long corridor in our compound, and inside the long corridor they put up another green fence three days ago,” he described by phone. “No one told us the reason for its installation.”

Green billboards have appeared on the streets of Shanghai
Green billboards have appeared on the streets of ShanghaiReuters

“Nobody can get out,” he said. “I feel helpless. You don’t know when the lockdown is going to end.” “If your area is fenced off, what happens if there is a fire? I don’t think anyone in their right mind can seal people’s houses.” concluded. Other measures recently introduced in the city include placing electronic alarms on doors to prevent the infected from leaving and the forced evacuation of residents to allow their homes to be disinfected.

Some residents who got a second negative covid test are preparing to leave a confinement center
Some residents who got a second negative covid test are preparing to leave a confinement centerEPA

Shanghai authorities have also ordered all infected patients and their close contacts to be transferred to a centralized quarantine run by the government. Although authorities managed to keep infection levels relatively low early in the pandemic, subsequent lockdowns struggled to contain the more transmissible recent variants of the virus.