Six weeks and counting: A Singaporean in Shanghai navigates a COVID-19 lockdown amid opaque rules and new-found neighbourliness

SHANGHAI: As one among China’s richest and most developed cities, Shanghai has all the time been a magnet for migrants – each inner and worldwide. I had been drawn to it as a result of it was the worldwide face of a newly assured nation, discovering its ft after many years of inner strife, international subjugation, and failed experiments with collectivisation.

Coming from a city-state of 6 million, it felt like a privilege to be a small a part of the megacity of 25 million, pushing issues alongside. Like anyplace else, issues – akin to huge inequalities and unequal improvement – exist, however total, dwelling requirements are excessive and bettering, and persons are optimistic about their future.

Then, the seemingly limitless lockdown started, shifting sentiment.

I’m at present into my sixth week of lockdown in Shanghai. A sustained spike in instances triggered an indefinite extension of the lockdown, in line with China’s zero-COVID coverage. Since then, each day instances rose from round 6,300 (together with each symptomatic and asymptomatic instances) in early April, to almost 28,000 round mid-April, and tapered all the way down to round 4,000 in early May.

Over the identical interval, Shanghai residents have watched helplessly from their residences as the federal government struggles to completely implement the strict measures, whereas straining to fairly present for different important wants. 

Since the beginning of the lockdown, entry to meals, and public well being and security have advanced. This is my account.


Entering the primary day of the onerous lockdown on Apr 1, my accomplice and I had stocked about a week’s price of meals. On that day, we additionally obtained our first bundle of presidency rations, comprising roughly 7kg of greens and a complete rooster. I keep in mind the date effectively as a result of my dad and mom had pushed throughout the Causeway to Johor Bahru that very day – marking their first abroad journey in two years. 

Over the primary couple of weeks of April, folks have been waking up on the first light to get on grocery retailer apps. It was a sport of quickest fingers first because the apps have been overburdened by the surge in demand. Very typically, one would top off a whole cart, solely to be denied the ultimate checkout as there have been no extra courier slots obtainable for the day. 

I had to this point been unsuccessful with making any purchases, however I had not been too involved till Day 5. That day, whereas present process mass PCR testing throughout the compound, I instructed the supervisor of the residents’ committee that we’d quickly run out of rice if issues continued as they have been.

“Is it possible for us to establish a neighbourhood WeChat group to conduct bulk purchases? This is what my friends in other residential compounds are doing,” I requested her. She mentioned she would look into it.

Later that day, I attempted to make use of Eleme, a meals supply service platform, to order 5kg of rice for a runner’s charge of 19 yuan (S$4). The charge was about half of the price of the rice, but it surely appeared a affordable worth to pay given the circumstances. 

To my shock, the order acquired processed. Hours later, the runner known as and requested for more cash. I cancelled the order. My grip over my very own life is diminishing, I believed on the time. Given the uncertainty of presidency rations, my alternate options have been to both partake in a each day battle with numerous others on grocery apps or be on the mercy of opportunists partaking in black market ways.

On Day 7, I used to be notified of, and invited to a neighbourhood WeChat group – volunteer-led, like a lot of the residential compounds in Shanghai. These unpaid people undertook what I believed was the work of the federal government. They dedicated themselves to each day PCR testing, lengthy hours in PPE fits, and labored 18-hour days organising mass testings, and meals sourcing and supply for the residents. 

Over the following two days, 5 group buys have been arrange. I participated in all of them, and obtained milk, eggs, meat, fruits, greens, oil and rice. The purchases took between three and six days to reach. 

Over the final two weeks of April, the meals state of affairs regularly eased. By Day 16, the majority purchases have been constantly fulfilled and I felt we lastly had meals safety. On Day 23, I used to be shocked to get up to offended messages in the neighbourhood chat group. People had complained that some neighbourhoods throughout the similar jurisdiction had obtained eight packages of presidency provides, in contrast with two for our compound. 

Each bundle had to this point lasted about three days for our family of two, which meant non-public purchases through the group group buys have been a necessity. The supervisor of the residents’ committee defined that these allocations weren’t set by her, however by the “higher-ups”, and she was merely conveying the rations to us as they got here. 

On the night of the identical day, we additionally heard the banging of pots and shouts of “Give us supplies” from a constructing reverse our compound. The actions gave the impression to be resident-orchestrated as we had seen flyers for such occasions throughout a number of compounds. I used to be in shock – after greater than three years in China, this was the clearest signal of protest I had witnessed up to now.

Coincidentally, quickly after – on Day 24 and 26 – we obtained our third and fourth packages of presidency rations. “The child who cries the loudest gets milk,” got here the wry reply after I instructed my Shanghainese associates about this. It was not till Day 36 – 5 weeks into our lockdown – that we have been lastly in a position to order takeout and take a break from our personal cooking.It stays to be seen if this enchancment shall be sustained. The state of affairs can differ wildly from district to district, and even between residential compounds throughout the similar district. So far now we have heard of compounds in Baoshan and Pudong districts tightening management measures regardless of the absence of constructive instances.


In a zero-COVID setting, a single constructive case can have an effect on a whole group. It didn’t take lengthy for that state of affairs to play out for me.

On Day 7, as we have been strolling out of our constructing in direction of the outside space of our compound, we discovered that one among our neighbours had examined constructive, which might have resulted in actions restricted strictly to our constructing. 

The subsequent day, the constructing was sealed off with police tape. I additionally learnt that 5 extra – out of a whole of 14 folks in our constructing – had examined constructive however had not been taken away. At the time, this example was turning into more and more widespread as a consequence of a lack of ambulance capability. 

However, PCR testing was to proceed, and on Day 9, we have been pressured to go away our unit to check on the base of the constructing. This was regarding as a result of we stay in a three-storey lane home constructing with subdivided items. Apart from us, the 4 households in the constructing don’t have any method to safely isolate. Their sanitation and cooking amenities are communal and situated exterior their very own items, and this meant that the three households with constructive instances have been continuously utilizing the communal staircase and corridors.

Remembering my Shanghainese associates’ recommendation (“the child who cries the loudest gets milk”), I attempted to cause with the supervisor of the residents’ committee. I instructed her that she was needlessly exposing us to the chance of an infection, and I appealed to her to both quickly pause testing till all of the constructive instances in our constructing have been despatched to quarantine amenities, or to check us at our unit’s doorstep. 

“I sympathise with you, but I cannot do anything about it,” she mentioned. “I can only encourage you to call the district government and make a complaint.” I took heed and known as the town’s 12345 public service hotline. My name went straight to voice mail. 

In the case of my constructing, it appeared that there was no method to safely do what was essential, and frustratingly, on the similar time, no flexibility and room to alter course. This created a lot battle between abnormal residents, and these imposing the rules.

Relief got here on Day 27 – 20 days after the detection of that first constructive case inside our constructing – once we have been instructed that every one our neighbours had recovered and examined damaging. By then, the general public I knew in Shanghai have been much less afraid of falling sick from COVID-19 itself than being despatched to quarantine amenities the place situations have been lower than perfect.

All this whereas, there had been no timeline on once we may depart our constructing. Processes have been opaque, communication muddy and the goalposts have been shifting on a regular basis.

First, the residents’ committee mentioned we’d have needed to anticipate the beforehand contaminated neighbours to endure a week of non-public well being monitoring. When the week was up, we have been then instructed that these neighbours must check damaging twice, consecutively. When these two days handed and your entire constructing examined damaging (this was Day 36), the residents’ committee nonetheless refused to allow us to depart our constructing, citing “requirements” that had but to be met.

Finally on Day 38 (May 8), we have been allowed to. This meant that we may out the trash ourselves and gather meals deliveries in individual. I by no means discovered what the “requirements” have been. 

So what’s subsequent? For the lockdown in our whole compound to be lifted, there should be no constructive instances in the previous 14 days. As of May 8, the final constructive case was logged on May 3, so if all goes effectively, we might be free to exit the compound May 17. But all it takes is one new case and the 14-day clock restarts. 

Despite this, I do know I’m fortunate. My most important issues over the previous month have been securing sufficient meals and testing damaging for COVID-19. I’ve associates who needed to coordinate a irritating journey again to Singapore, as a result of they didn’t need their kids to proceed with on-line classes indefinitely. I’ve associates who had their constructing doorways locked from the surface – in the title of COVID-19 prevention – and worrying about escaping in the case of fireplace. 


There are constructive developments from the continuing lockdown. For one, I’m seeing rising rights consciousness inside my social circle, with folks turning into extra prepared to query the authorized foundation of some enforcement actions. My understanding is that folks in Shanghai typically settle for the state’s zero-COVID coverage and are prepared to adjust to repeated testing and lockdowns. However, with enforcement actions typically chaotically and erratically enforced with no clear set of rules, help for the coverage is being eroded.

Another constructive improvement is an improved relationship with my neighbours. Being compelled to undergo a testing time collectively in an enclosed house, beforehand cordial, “hi-and-bye” relationships have advanced into one thing a little extra substantial.

For instance, we chat extra, we reward one another issues, and we barter commerce for gadgets we want. On Day 34, as all of us congregated in the communal kitchen ready to be examined, I keep in mind feeling significantly moved. The aged Shanghainese retiree from the second ground was ranting, primarily to the younger Anhuinese migrant dwelling in the half-level beneath him. But he seen that I used to be listening and began addressing me. We all chimed in, and hardly ever have I felt so included. 

“The anxiety from checking the test results daily will kill me, not the virus!” the retiree proclaimed. 

“Don’t bother checking. The results don’t hold water. If you are positive, you will get notified through a phone call,” mentioned the Anhuinese man. 

We all laughed, as a result of it was true. And as a result of, after weeks of dwelling via lockdown, we have been all conscious that the hole between folks’s expectations – of clear rules, clear procedures, documentation in writing, and orderly enforcement – and actuality has been painfully apparent. 

The author is an incoming PhD candidate at University College Dublin’s School of Politics and International Relations. She was CNA’s Shanghai correspondent from 2018 to 2020.

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Six weeks and counting: A Singaporean in Shanghai navigates a COVID-19 lockdown amid opaque rules and new-found neighbourliness

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