Shanghai Residents Scream From Locked Down Residential Buildings During Covid Lockdown

As lockdown measures in Shanghai continue for the third consecutive week, residents have taken to social media to ask for aid and protest the restrictive measures. China’s Zero-COVID strategy, seemingly successful until the extremely transmissible BA.2 Omicron subvariant, is now under strain with cases rising rapidly. In addition to causing disruptions in the national and global supply chain, China’s Zero-Covid strategy has caused food insecurity for millions, widespread business closures, and family separations. 

According to The New York Times, on April 11th, the U.S. State Department ordered its non-emergency consulate employees to leave Shanghai, citing the danger of “arbitrary enforcement of local laws and Covid-19 related restrictions.” In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijan criticized the U.S. “weaponization and politicization” of the crisis. As discussed in CNN, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention defended the protocols, arguing the “loosening of restrictions and opening of borders could cause many problems” including exhausting medical supplies and high fatality rates.

A Shanghai resident posted a video of hundreds of residents screaming from their balconies during the lockdown in protest of the strict lockdown rules. Reuters reported that the Shanghai City Police department warned that those who violated COVID-19 lockdown rules would be “dealt with in strict accordance with the law.” 

China’s Zero-Covid policy has an undeniably harmful impact on people’s lives, from economic to familial and health concerns. China’s economic growth was already slowing in March, with low construction and property sales, higher costs of raw materials, and a rapidly aging population. Disruptions to the supply chain from previous lockdowns in China and around the world have been intensified by China’s lockdown requirements. Without adequate numbers of workers, especially truck drivers, supply passage within and out of mainland China is exceptionally difficult and expensive.

The government has also been unable to properly provide supplies for the residents in lockdown and some have taken to social media to ask for help from neighbors or the government. One video shows a mother begging for fever medication to give her child (in China, one must have a prescription and a negative COVID test to buy fever medication). Others have run out of prescription medication or food while locked in their residential complexes. Families have also been separated from their children if they are not all COVID-positive. The outcry against this policy has led to a relaxation of restrictions for parents to accompany their children in quarantine. 

Despite these lockdowns, the BA.2 variant continues to spread rapidly in Shanghai. In a city of nearly 26 million people, China reported more than 22,000 cases on Monday, April 11 and more than 26,000 cases on April 12th. About 87% of the population is vaccinated, but only half of those over 80 have received two shots and less than 20% of them have received a booster. China’s once-successful Zero-COVID strategy may have created a sense of complacency and a low sense of urgency, especially in areas that never experienced significant damage from the pandemic (unlike the original epicenter in Wuhan). Simultaneously, Chinese citizens are aware of the dangers, having recently witnessed the deaths of unvaccinated older adults in Hong Kong’s overwhelmed hospitals. The best method of preventing deaths and hospitalizations is to ensure that all are vaccinated, a goal China is trying to fulfill by expanding vaccine access to less accessible rural areas. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has not ended. While some countries are lifting restrictions, others are struggling to keep their health system afloat. Images of bodies in bags piled up in Hong Kong or pleas from the British National Health Service for families to take care of Covid-positive patients demonstrate the ongoing severity of the pandemic. China’s extreme zero-Covid policy is not an effective response to the pandemic because of the disastrous effects on the economy and people’s lives while cases continue to rise despite the lockdown. But completely lifting restrictions, such as mask mandates, and declaring the pandemic over creates a sense of complacency and ignorance that places in danger those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. The most effective strategy is likely to maintain mask and vaccine mandates until we leave the acute phase of the pandemic.