A BC native living in Shanghai says swapping food scraps with neighbors and conversing through windows has become part of his routine after a city-wide lockdown to curb COVID transmission stretched from a few days to three weeks.
Victoria’s Stewart Jensen, who relocated to Shanghai’s Changning District two years ago to set up a manufacturing plant for his electric cargo-bicycle company, Baere Bikeshas been confined to his apartment for the past 21 days.
“All it takes is one case in your apartment block and your whole compound is in lockdown for another 14,” he told Postmedia in an email on Thursday.
China’s ruling party has enforced a “zero-COVID” strategy, shutting down entire cities this April, forcing residents to self-isolate in every case, including in Shanghai, which has 25 million residents and 95 per cent of the country’s cases.
On Wednesday, city authorities reported eight people with COVID-19 had died and there were 25,411 new coronavirus cases, the majority being asymptomatic.
“With the number of new cases daily and how contagious the new variants are, it seems likely someone else in our area will get infected,” Jensen said.
The shutdown has left him unable to visit the factory, or shop for necessities, including medication and groceries.
“In the three weeks so far, we have received three bags of groceries (from the government), which is not enough to support two people for more than a couple of days. We have to rely on group buying,” Jensen said.
“Some grocery stores have remained open with special licenses, but they have large minimum order sizes, such as 60 items for delivery. It’s extremely chaotic. I’m in eight different WeChat groups where everyone is trying to haphazardly pool their money together to buy food.”
Jensen has also been unable to see his girlfriend, Mia, who lives just a few minutes’ drive away. The two have resorted to chatting through FaceTime.
However, the young businessman said his time in isolation hasn’t been all bad.
“I still feel quite lucky,” he said. He has connected with his neighbors by sharing experiences and food through their apartment windows.
“Last week, we lowered our downstairs neighbors some chocolate in a bag with a rope. They put in oranges, garlic and lunch meat, and we pulled it up.”
For some, Shanghai’s lockdown has become dire.
“My neighbor across the hall lives with her elderly parents,” Jensen said. “Her father takes medicine daily and she has told me that they’re nearly out and don’t know how to get any more.”
For his roommate, Matjaz Tancic, a professional photographer, the threat of COVID has hampered his ability to earn a living.
“Since the start of the lockdown, he has been completely unable to work, leaving him now nearly a month with no income,” Jensen said. “This is survivable for an expatriate photographer, but not as much for the army of delivery drivers, cooks and other low-wage workers in Shanghai. There is no financial support offered for people in these situations. They have to rely on their savings.”
China’s response to the COVID resurgence has upset locals, including his neighbours, who Jensen said protested the strict containment measures in signs hung from their windows.
“People here know the risks of speaking out, so the fact that they are publicly denouncing the government means they are very frustrated.”
Things have begun to ease in parts of the city.
Shanghai permitted four million more residents out of their homes Wednesday as anti-virus controls eased in some communities, although large gatherings are still prohibited and travel remains restricted in most neighbourhoods.
“A friend was able to deliver us some food the other day, which we had to haul into our apartment on the seventh floor with a rope we hung down to the ground,” said Jensen, who, after recently testing negative for COVID-19 , remains in isolation.
“No one knows how long freedom will last. All it takes is another COVID-19 case for the lockdown clock to reset.”