Calgary woman stuck in Shanghai lockdown worried for city’s poorest | #socialmedia


Those who test positive for COVID are removed from their compounds and taken to quarantine facilities.

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When Danielle LeClerc found she and her neighbours at a Shanghai compound were running out of food earlier this month, she knew it was time to take action.

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The former Calgary resident, who has been living in China’s second most populous city since 2008, gathered together many of the women who also live in her compound.

“I was like, ‘Listen, you know, none of us are having any success getting food. Let’s all work together.’

“So we began to pull our resources and that got food into our compound. Now we’re doing OK. In fact, we have probably more food per capita than a lot of people.”

The Chinese government began locking down parts of Shanghai on March 27. LeClerc said her section of the city had several days’ notice before they locked down, but other areas had only hours, prompting panic buying.

The lockdowns are an attempt to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, as China has adopted a COVID-zero policy.

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LeClerc works remotely from her home in one of Shanghai’s many residential compounds. She said each compound generally consists of a dozen buildings, with each of those multi-storey buildings having thousands of residents.

Gatekeepers who once acted as doormen and security guards on the compounds are now tasked with making sure nobody exits without good cause. Locks have been placed on the gates.

LeClerc said she and her husband live in a more historic section of Shanghai. Their compound is much smaller than average, in a style of buildings known as lane houses.

Danielle LeClerc and her husband Tom Szyszko enjoy a glass of wine as they try to unwind from the stress of the lockdowns in Shanghai. LeClerc said she and her husband have things relatively comfortable compared to many in the Chinese city.
Danielle LeClerc and her husband Tom Szyszko enjoy a glass of wine as they try to unwind from the stress of the lockdowns in Shanghai. LeClerc said she and her husband have things relatively comfortable compared to many in the Chinese city. Submitted by Danielle LeClerc

“These are basically old mansions that have been converted to multifamily dwellings. So because it’s a house, there’s no clear partitions between the neighbours,” she said.

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The pair live on the top floor of a three-storey house, with about 10 other neighbours. She said neighbours who wish to hang laundry on the rooftop terrace have to access through her kitchen.

Scenes from a supermarket show people buying whatever they can gather in preparation for a lockdown in Shanghai are shown in a photo posted to WeChat.
Scenes from a supermarket show people buying whatever they can gather in preparation for a lockdown in Shanghai are shown in a photo posted to WeChat. Photo by Danielle LeClerc /WeChat

Shanghai residents were originally told their lockdown would last for five days, but it had reached 16 days as of Saturday. Many citizens prepared by getting enough food for those five days only, but when the government extended the lockdowns, LeClerc said many people started having trouble getting more supplies since they are reliant on delivery drivers, who were also at first locked down.

“In the beginning, people were using apps to try to place these orders and you had to wake up at like, six in the morning and be hitting send, send, send to try to get your order to go through because you’re competing with 25 million people.”

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It was mainly through group orders that LeClerc and her neighbours were finally able to get fresh food. They also received some government rations.

A photo of the first government rations LeClerc received during the lockdowns in Shanghai. Submitted by Danielle LeClerc
A photo of the first government rations LeClerc received during the lockdowns in Shanghai. Submitted by Danielle LeClerc Submitted by Danielle LeClerc

Although confined to her compound, she has seen images and reports from across the city via WeChat, a communications app that is used widely across China for group chats, commerce, and more. She said she realizes how fortunate she and her husband are in their current situation.

“We have a nice apartment and have been able to access food. I mean, we have beer! We’re OK. But there are a lot of people who are not.”

Those who test positive for COVID are removed from their compounds and taken to quarantine facilities. LeClerc has seen images of the facilities on WeChat. She’s also heard they are reaching capacity, and people are being sent to neighbouring provinces.

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She said she’s worried most for the city’s roughly 10 million migrant workers — many of whom sleep and live in the factories where they work.

“Those people who are doing the deliveries, even the pandemic workers, they can’t go home. Their compounds are locked down. They’re sleeping in places like abandoned restaurants, and some of the delivery drivers are just sleeping in their trucks.”

People queue for COVID-19 testing at a compound in Shanghai. This photo was shared with Calgarian Danielle LeClerc by a friend, via social media.
People queue for COVID-19 testing at a compound in Shanghai. This photo was shared with Calgarian Danielle LeClerc by a friend, via social media. Submitted by Danielle LeClerc

What has surprised her most about the lockdowns is the rise of anti-government sentiment on WeChat. She said people might express concerns quietly among friends, but never on government-monitored social media.

“Nobody here has ever really experienced the government stepping in and controlling everyone’s lives on this kind of level, and I think it’s shaken people here,” she said. “And people aren’t saying, ‘Let’s have a democracy,’ but they are saying, ‘We don’t have confidence.’

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Jérôme Beaugrand-Champagne, a lecturer in law at the University of Montreal who spent 18 years practising law in China, said he doesn’t think the Chinese government will allow anyone to starve in Shanghai because it has too much to lose.

“The thing that the government fears the most is a riot, and losing grip of the population, because all hell can break loose,” he said.

“They have to be careful but they are trying to enforce that utopia of COVID-zero.”

Beaugrand-Champagne said the events taking place in Shanghai may seem to be taking place a world away, but North Americans may feel the repercussions if the Port of Shanghai — the busiest container port on the planet — shuts down.

“A lot of stuff comes from China. It’s a major hub for that region and there are so many factories producing goods to be exported to Canada,” he said.

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He said a shortage of those produces could cause heightened demand and higher prices for Canadians.

A pandemic worker scoots past the gates of Danielle LeClerc’s Shanghai compound. A guard stays at the gate round the clock to keep people from leaving, and to let in delivery drivers.
A pandemic worker scoots past the gates of Danielle LeClerc’s Shanghai compound. A guard stays at the gate round the clock to keep people from leaving, and to let in delivery drivers. Submitted by Danielle LeClerc

LeClerc said she will continue to wait out the lockdown, as unpleasant as it is. On Saturday, she learned through state media the government is planning further lockdown restrictions, as current measures aren’t controlling the spread of COVID-19, and the government may be ready to stop delivery drivers.

“They’re assuming that people receiving food deliveries are responsible for spreading the virus to locked-down compounds,” she said. “But the government supply chain has so far proved totally inadequate.”

It’s more likely the virus is spreading from compound to compound by the workers who are testing thousands, often in close quarters, LeClerc said.

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She and her husband have been thinking of returning to North America this summer. She’s hopeful the city will be open enough by then to get to the airport.

As for the value of the lockdown, she said she feels it has probably been a failure in most respects. While the Chinese government claims nobody has died from COVID in Shanghai, she knows there have been deaths due to people who missed out on medical care, and additional fatalities from suicide.

“It doesn’t seem like a good idea at this point,” she said. “China’s invested a lot in this zero-COVID policy, and it’s kind of a point of pride. So it’s going to be difficult for them to change direction because of the political implications.”

brthomas@postmedia.com

Twitter: @brodie_thomas

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