Locked-Down Shanghai Residents Struggle to Buy Fresh Food

By BLOOMBERG

A growing Covid-19 outbreak in Shanghai has seen buildings and apartment blocks locked down for testing, leaving some frustrated residents struggling to secure fresh food for nearly a week.

The testing blitz comes as cases in the city of about 25 million surge to a record, part of a wider wave that’s testing China’s zero-tolerance approach to the virus just as the rest of the world is abolishing pandemic restrictions. People are being told to stay in their homes to wait to be tested, pushing up demand for deliveries but also leading to a shortage of delivery drivers.

“I keep being informed the delivery drivers have all been fully booked even though I set an alarm to wake me up at 5 a.m. to try,” said Chen Mei, a 60-year-old retiree living in Pudong district. The situation reminded her of her childhood, when she would wait in long lines with her mom to buy meat as China faced intermittent shortages, she said.

It’s spurred some creative problem solving: brokerage Tianfeng Securities Co. briefly offered to deliver vegetables to clients in certain parts of Shanghai, though it swiftly stopped after social media users criticized it as a marketing campaign, according to local media reports. The brokerage did not reply to Bloomberg’s email seeking comment on the report.

Analysts at brokerage Guotai Junan compiled a guide to all mobile apps that sell vegetables, though the apps are overwhelmed. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Hema and Dingdong Maicai are telling customers to expect delays due to limited delivery capacity, and slots are quickly booking up.

The shortages show the challenges officials face in implementing President Xi Jinping’s dual goals of continuing to target elimination of the virus while minimizing the economic and social impacts of the Covid Zero strategy. While the country is still deploying measures like hardcore lockdowns in some areas — the entire province of Jilin, in China’s northeast, are confined to their homes — the spread of the highly transmissible omicron strain to its most economically significant hubs has prompted a pivot to more targeted approaches.

Shanghai officials have ruled out a broad lockdown, though some parts of the city will be sealed off and further tested. The financial hub plans to use stadiums and exhibition centers to quarantine mild or asymptomatic Covid cases, with facilities in Jiading and Minhang districts already revamped for the purpose. Pudong Shangri-La, a luxury hotel located in the heart of the city’s financial district, started to be used as a quarantine hotel this week, according to a hotel staff.

Some residents have scrambled to hoard supplies, due to uncertainties about when they’ll be released from lockdown and the unreliability of delivery apps. Shanghai police detained two men Wednesday on suspicion of spreading rumors that the entire city was headed into a full-lown lockdown.

Chen, who lives in one of the areas with the highest number of infections and which is home to a bevy of domestic and international financial institutions and the Shanghai Stock Exchange, has been locked in her compound with her son and two grandchildren since last Friday. 

She stockpiled food for three days after being told her lockdown would only last for two, but panicked when it was extended twice and she faced difficulties in ordering via online grocery apps. Unable to get deliveries, a friend who lives in another compound ended up bringing her groceries.

Residents in Jilin, which still has the most cases in China’s current wave, have similar complaints on social media about getting too little support from local governments to get food and medical care. The northeastern province that borders Russia saw more than 2,000 daily infections as its roughly 24 million residents mark more than one week in lockdown.

Don’t Hoard

Local Shanghai authorities urged residents to not hoard food and other daily necessities, and said they’re working to ensure sufficient supplies. The government in Pudong organized group-buying services for residents to order vegetables from this week. Minhang district said on Thursday they’ll organize volunteers to help deliver food and will prioritize testing staff at online grocery businesses in order to get them back to work quicker.

Shanghai reported 983 new Covid infections for Wednesday, with daily cases almost doubling since the weekend. The surge came after authorities expanded testing to more residents to root out silent transmission chains. 

Health-care access is another source of frustration, as some compounds refuse to let people leave and hospitals pivot to prioritize Covid-positive patients or shut their out-patient services. 

Emergency doctor Hao Xichun said in a Weibo post last week that Shanghai has the country’s top medical resources, attracting patients from all over the country to visit. But some people risk traveling only to find they’re not accepted by hospitals, and others face days of quarantine once they return to their hometowns, he said. 

“We need to adjust the practices because the pressure now is no longer just providing treatment, but also how to avoid any tragedies triggered by the strict anti-Covid measures,” he said in the post.