Many of you will have seen the recent news reports about lockdown in Shanghai. It’s all true. Here’s how it has been for the Toner tribe out here:
After the initial Wuhan outbreak in March 2020, China has sucessfully kept COVID at bay for two years through very strict border controls and quarantine processes. We were slightly smug as we sat in restaurants, theatres and bars watching the rest of the world in massive panic as COVID ripped through country after country, with the death tolls mounting. We were lucky, we told ourselves, that we were so safe here. It was a gilded cage as we couldn’t leave the country but for two summers we explored this vast country quite happily.
Things started to go pear shaped in October 2021 when cases popped up in various towns and cities and we were advised not to travel for Golden week or Christmas or again for Chinese New Year in 2022. We were confined to Shanghai, but still it is a massive city of 25 million people so there was plenty to explore. We weren’t worried.
Then the cases in Hong Kong began to rise dramatically and that’s when the problems began for us. It all started to go very badly wrong at this hotel
Once the pride of Shanghai’s tourist industry, it was the first 5 star hotel to be built in the city. Opened in the 1980s it had 1000 guest rooms and a world class luxury service. In February this year it was closed for a much needed refurbishment, so when the passengers from Hong Kong began pouring into the city and more quarantine space was needed this was the ideal empty venue. What was not known was that the air conditioning and ventillation system was slightly faulty (due to age) and as passengers in quarantine from Hong Kong began to test positive during their 14 day stay the virus was actually being blown out into the community instead of being contained in the building. Quarantine facility staff and other workers quickly took the new Omicrom variant home at the end of their shifts and the rest, as they say is history…
Covid cases began to spring up in various places around the city which became known as ‘hotspots’. On Wednesday 9th March one of my library assistants told me that there was a case in her compound and she was going into a 14 day lockdown.
By Friday 11th we were informed that all schools should close and every student right up to Higher Education level would switch to Distance Learning. We were surprised at the short notice but we were better prepared than we had been in 2020. Faculty were allowed on campus, with their children but all lessons were on zoom. The PRC (People’s Republic of China) staff were asked to stay at home, largely because they used public transport to get to school whereas we all live relatively near by and could walk in. My second assistant was in that boat. So began two weeks of me running the school ibrary alone, zooming into classes for read alouds and responding to requests from parents for books via our Click and Collect scheme. I did a lot of walking during that time!
We were discouraged from ‘gathering’ and in an abundance of caution many social events were cancelled but little did we know how bad it was going to get…
It was 9pm on Sunday 25th March when we received the notification that the whole of our side of the city, Pudong, was going into a 4 day lockdown. Several (lots) of us rushed out to Carrefour to have our first taste of panic buying. Kevin and I felt very pleased with ourselves as we managed to secure milk, bread and some veg that would last us to the end of the week. During the week we were tested every other day and fully expected to be let out before long. It was quite nice not having to get up so early or do a commute. Then we were told that we needed to stay in for a further day as the test results had not been delivered. The lockdown was being extended.
Now when I say lockdown, really I mean prison! We have to stay in our apartment. We cannot go outside at all, unless we are being called for a Nucleaic Acid Test (NAT) and even then we are encouraged not to ‘mingle’ with each other. Even Kevin and I had to stand 1m apart and we live together!!!
The first week passed very gently, we did Distance Learning but from home which for me is largely preparing and reading stories. Without my books there was a limit to what I could do, but I found little online jobs to keep me occupied. It was all good.
After a week, though, some of the folks began to get a little ansty. They wanted to be able to walk outside even just in our compound but the answer was a very firm NO. The PE teachers took to running up and down the internal emergency staircase!
Food supplies began to dwindle, but unlike in outher countries where trips to the shops were permitted, we couldn’t leave our apartment and neither could the shop owners or delivery drivers! The situation was beginning to get a little worrying. I had a store cupboard with pasta and rice etc and stuff in the freezer but the fresh things like bread, milk and eggs were running out. I was also hearing about friends and colleagues who were very short of food. Our ayi lives in a single room with a shared kitchen and very little storage space. She was getting desperate and I felt dreadful as there was nothing I could do to help.There were people who were literally starving!
Worry began to set in and people began to seek sources of food. Some wholesale food was sometimes available in large quantities so people have been clubbing together in compounds to buy between them. You end up with LOTS of something and nothing of other things. I was lucky and managed to get 20 mangoes and a huge bunch of bananas on one occasion. And we were particularly delighted by the washing up bowl full of strawberries!
Then the government stepped up and rather belatedly sent out some emergency food parcels. Basically this was vegetables, and more than that, it was in season local vegetables so not things that I was necessarily familiar with or knew how to cook! Fortunately, my ayi who cooks for us has been tutoring me from her apartment and giving me meal suggestions. We have had some very weird and wonderful meals. It feels a little like a war-time situation where you have to eat what you can get rather than what you want. I am now adept at a dish called ‘strange vegetable soup’. I just bung in all the things that I dont know what to do with. We were even given a tin of Spam! Gosh, I haven’t eaten that for decades. Lockdown is not great for picky eaters!
From all the chat in our social media groups, I feel that those of us with some cooking skills have fared rather better than those who previously relied on take aways or visits to restaurants. We are the ones with good old fashioned survival skills.
Concordia is a Christian School and one of the really great things about working in such a community is the care and support that we all give and receive. This was evident in the suprise parcel that we all received from the parents Goodness knows who had to pull what strings to get these boxes to us, but we were blessed with sausages, steak, toilet rolls, detergent, tissues, biscuits and eggs. It was a real life line. We are so fortunate and it was incredibly helpful.
And so passed another week. Social media got very very active as people sourced products which would sell out within minutes. Literally you turn your back on your phone and bam! You’ve missed 100 messages… We have developed a barter system as people got mixed bags of stuff but didn’t want it all. We leave food outside our doors and other teachers creep stealthily around the corridors and pick it up. Kevin has literally just come back from picking up some unwanted milk and mushrooms from the floor below us.
Testing is now daily and it could be either the NAT tests or the self administered antigen ones (lateral flow). We even get tested twice some days!!! Oh joy! What this must be costing the city I dread to think. Actually the NAT tests at least allow us the opportunity of a walk downstairs.
We have now been given some medicine which we are supposed to take if we develop covid symptoms. I have no idea what it is but we all have plenty of it!!!
One of the problems that we have is the scare stories we hear about quarantine facilities. Shanghai has converted its massive EXPO centre and other huge spaces to house thousands upon thousands of beds. People who test positive but who are asymptomatic are being sent there and from what we understand conditions are terrible. Worse than having the disease itself! The toilet facilities are dreadful. There are no showers. It is very noisy with people snoring and they don’t dim the lights at night. This would be an absolute nightmare. We have all be advised what to pack should we test positive.
There is/has been much concern about the fact that children and parents get deprecated during this quarantine confinement, even very young children. Also people with pets. It’s hard enough not being able to take your dog for a walk, but who would look after your animals if you are whisked away? There have been some reported cases of the animals being put down.
The government here are saying that the fact the rest of the world is living with the virus doesn’t mean that China has to drop its standards. They still have 17% of the population unvaccinated, mainly the very old and the very young and they say that even if those people got sick then their facilities would be swamped and it would mean too many deaths.
The zero tolerance policy, however is not without its own casulties. I have heard about a toddler who could not get to hospital and died, her mother committed suicide after that. Also patients are being sent home from hospital as medical staff are redeployed to conduct the mass testing, and they are dying from lack of proper care. It is a very risky time to be here.
I have heard of riots in certain parts of the city, walkouts from compounds, grocery stores being raided and lots of disgruntled people. The government is walking a fine line here and it will be fascinating to see what happens next. Will they continue to stick to these draconian measures despite the logistical problems of keeping a city of 25 million fed and watered; Or will they accept that the disease is no longer a killer and is something that they can now never eradicate.
Many people are choosing to leave early but even that isn’t easy. You need to get a special test done (by a hospital) and then get permission from your compound management to leave, There are no taxis and no public transport. If you do make it to the airport many flight are being cancelled at the last minute. If that happens to you then you are stuck because once you have left you are not permitted back into your compound! Its a real difficult situation. We have a friend was was due to return to the UK but a positive case was identified and she was locked in and missed her flight…
Our compound has been fortunate not to have any positve cases in the last 3 weeks so we have now been allowed to walk outside in the gardens. It is a real treat to be able to do some taiji in the fresh air and feel the sunshine on my face. We are HOPING that things will ease up but who knows when that will be.
Until then we continue to get intermittant parcels from the government. We play this game!
Yesterday I got salted eggs (yerk!), salt and a life times supply of soy sauce! Oh and some bread rolls. Actually they are very sweet and more like maderia cake than bread. We won’t starve but we do have a strange diet.
We were a bit worried about repeat prescriptions but our insurance company has been amazing and got us a supply. We now have disinfectant and have to spray every thing we receive from outside.
In all this humor has kept us going. Dark humor at times but if you don’t laugh…
We look at the war in Ukraine and know that these problems that we are facing are inconveniences and not nearly as bad as being in a war zone. And on the bright side, we still have hot water and Netflix…
We are living through Shanghai history.