Shanghai residents sleep at work and ration food during Covid lockdown

  • Most of the city’s 25 million residents are under strict stay-at-home orders, battling food shortages and unable to take their dogs for a walk
  • Some people in the megacity are living in their workplaces in an effort to keep up business and manufacturing
Agence France-Presse |

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A worker wearing personal protective equipment walks down the street during a Covid-19 lockdown in the Jing’an district in Shanghai on April 12, 2022. Photo: AFP

By day it’s Romeo’s workplace, by night it’s his home. Like many other finance workers in Shanghai, he has moved into the office to keep the wheels of commerce turning during the harsh Covid lockdown.

Anticipating that creeping closures would catch him out, Romeo decamped to the Pudong district in the east part of Shanghai in late March soon before the city shut down.

The business hub has since become the epicentre of China’s biggest Covid-19 outbreak since the virus emerged more than two years ago, recording around 25,000 infections a day.

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Most of Shanghai’s 25 million residents are under strict stay-at-home orders, battling food shortages and fearful of testing positive for Covid as it would land them in a giant quarantine centre.

Some, like Romeo, are living strangely dislocated lives as businesses struggle to keep operating in one of the world’s major financial hubs.

“There are people sleeping on the first and second floors, each person goes to their own office,” Romeo told Agence France-Presse, declining to use his real, Chinese name.

The roads in Shanghai are nearly empty during the Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: Bloomberg

“There’s no forced conversation … everyone is quiet and respectful of each other’s distance and privacy.”

At night the social graces of office hours continue, he said.

For other workers in Shanghai, privacy is in short supply. Social media videos show staff sleeping on bunks in closed factories that are trying to continue manufacturing their goods.

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The crisis in Shanghai caught many unprepared.

Frank Tsai, who is locked down in his flat in Puxi, the western half of Shanghai, stocked up on four days’ worth of food, as initially ordered by authorities.

Seven days later, his portions are “getting smaller and smaller”.

“I’ve thought about my meals and my food intake more than I ever have in my life,” said Tsai, whose business organises public lectures in normal times.

A man looks outside his window during a Covid-19 lockdown in the Jing’an district of Shanghai. Photo: Agence France-Presse

Some residents have resorted to bartering or paying enormous sums of money for food as the lockdown grinds on.

A Shanghai resident surnamed Ma said she paid 400 yuan (HK$492) just for a box of instant noodles and a soda.

“I’m just trying to stock up,” she said. “I’m not sure how long this will continue.”

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Shanghai is now a city of silence, with the quiet broken only by robot dogs and drones broadcasting orders to test for Covid and stay inside.

Workers in hazmat suits – dubbed the “Big Whites” – carry out testing inside residential compounds, where every few days residents line up for swabbing, filled with dread at a positive result.

Some have seen the lighter side. One foreigner queuing for testing last week, dressed in a tuxedo complete with bow tie, has made waves online as people make the most of their few minutes outside.

A medical worker swabs a resident during a round of Covid-19 testing in a neighbourhood placed under lockdown in Shanghai. Photo: Bloomberg

Dog owners have been unable to walk their pets and are forced to put their pooches through crash courses on using a litter tray – or sneak out in the dead of the night for the animals to relieve themselves.

“I trained my dog to pee and poop inside, but it came to a point where, to keep myself and my dog sane, I took him down at 3am,” said one owner.

Authorities are struggling to provide enough beds at makeshift hospitals for people who test positive.

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The government has said 130,000 new beds are ready or under construction as part of its mass quarantine regime.

But the policy is testing the tolerance of many.

Leona Cheng, a student in her early 20s, emerged from 13 days of quarantine on Friday.

“It is unreasonable and unsustainable,” she told Agence France-Presse. “Too many people are getting infected too fast.”

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