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Shanghai residents rush to buy groceries on March 28, a day after the government announced a two-stage city-wide lockdown. Photo: Tracy Qu

Shanghai cyber watchdog warns against internet rumours as extended lockdown frays nerves

  • The Shanghai office of the Cyberspace Administration of China asks WeChat group members to obey the law
  • Rumours spread on Thursday that armed police would take over the city, while group buying would be suspended

Shanghai’s internet watchdog said it would crack down on rumours on social media, as speculation and anger mount among residents living in the locked-down city of 25 million, ravaged by an Omicron outbreak.

“Some people are making up, publishing and spreading rumours related to our measures to contain the outbreak … especially through WeChat group chats,” the Shanghai office of the Cyberspace Administration of China said in an announcement on Friday.

“We would like to remind every group chat organiser and member to obey the law and regulations online.”


Covid wave paralyses Shanghai’s food deliveries

Covid wave paralyses Shanghai’s food deliveries

Misinformation related to Shanghai’s latest wave of Covid-19 infections first surfaced last month, when rumours swirled online that the city would enter a lockdown in early March. The city’s government quickly refuted the claim at the time.

As cases soared, however, Shanghai went on to impose a two-phase lockdown on March 28, which was originally scheduled to end on April 5, but has since been extended indefinitely.

Residents of Shanghai, which reported a daily record of more than 21,000 new Covid-19 infections on Friday, have remained confined to their homes for more than a week now. Grocery supplies in many households have begun to run out, leaving citizens on edge.

On Thursday, rumours spread on messaging groups on WeChat, Tencent Holdings’ ubiquitous super app, alleging that armed police would take over the city, while group buying – which many people currently rely on to purchase daily essentials – would be suspended. Shanghai police denied the claims on Friday morning, saying it was investigating a 35-year-old man surnamed Zhou, accused of fabricating fake information.

WeChat group chats of residential communities have become an important channel for members to source food and other necessities during the lockdown, as most online shopping platforms and restaurants that previously offered deliveries are shut.

Shanghai residents use phones, group buying to source groceries amid lockdown

Still, some residents have been subsisting on instant noodles and porridge, according to a Pudong-based blogger who goes by the handle “stormzhang”. “When disaster strikes, please stop promoting your positive energy and make way for distress signals,” the author wrote in a WeChat article on Friday.

A growing number of Chinese internet users, who usually refrain from discussing government policies in public, have taken to social media to push back against Shanghai’s blanket lockdown.

Others called on the city to allow asymptomatic patients, which make up the bulk of confirmed cases, to quarantine at home rather than in mobile cabin hospitals to ease pressure on the health care system.
Last week, an elderly Shanghai resident died from asthma after an ambulance refused to take him to the hospital because of Covid-19 restrictions, sparking widespread attention and concerns that the city is failing to provide timely medical care to people in need. Public health authorities have since ordered hospitals and clinics to reopen emergency wards.