Local authorities in Shanghai are fencing off apartment building entrances to further restrict movement in the city as censors struggled to remove a viral video showing the hardships of the financial hub’s anti-Covid-19 lockdown.
The tough new tactics in Shanghai came as Covid-19 cases in Beijing jumped to 22 over the weekend, forcing authorities in the Chinese capital to lock down communities hit by the virus.
Chinese president Xi Jinping is determined to stamp out the highly infectious Omicron coronavirus variant, ordering a campaign that has brought dozens of cities to a standstill and paralysed the economy.
The strict lockdowns have led to panic buying, food shortages and growing public anger, denting the country’s economic prospects since mid-March when Jilin became the first large city to lock down to fend off an Omicron wave.
Jilin in China’s north has now been locked down for more than 50 days and carried out 40 rounds of citywide Covid-19 testing. But the city still reported 15 new cases on Saturday. The nearby industrial city of Changchun has similarly locked down for more than four weeks and reported 172 new cases for the day.
China as a whole counted 21,796 new cases on Saturday with 21,058 testing positive for Covid-19 in Shanghai, reversing a downtrend in cases reported earlier in the week. Shanghai had 39 new Covid-19 deaths, a new high.
In Shanghai’s eastern Pudong district, the local pandemic prevention committee ordered “hard quarantines” for communities with a recent history of cases. Residents on social media shared photos of workers in white hazmat suits installing green fences more than 1.5m high outside buildings to prevent residents from exiting.
Pudong said the new barriers should leave enough space to carry out Covid-19 testing and that workers should “watch out for their own safety” while installing the gates.
“Will the virus be afraid of these fences, let’s wait and see,” said one Shanghai resident on social media. A venture capitalist in the city tagged a photo of the fences: “Where am I? What year is it? Have I travelled through time?”
A lawyer in Shanghai, locked inside in his apartment complex for a month, said he was worried the fences would be added to his community soon. “In case of a fire accident, it will be very difficult to escape,” he said. “This is prohibited by law very explicitly.”
Meanwhile, China’s army of censors struggled to stop viral videos from spreading on social media which relayed the growing frustration in Shanghai, where most residents have remained quarantined at home for more than three weeks.
On Friday night social media users posted and reposted a six-minute video titled the “Sounds of April”, which compiled audio recordings of the past month’s tribulations.
The posts to Tencent’s WeChat social feed were quickly deleted by censors, in a cat-and-mouse game in which people shared the black-and-white footage of the city overlaid with audio. Many joked that the country had finally hit “zero spreading”.
The clip begins with a recording of local authorities’ March 15 press conference when health officials claimed the coronavirus pandemic was under control and a lockdown was unnecessary.
It proceeded to chronologically link more than a dozen viral moments of the past month, from residents pleading for food, to the cries of babies separated from their parents and an appalled onlooker watching a corgi being killed after its owner was sent to a quarantine camp.
“As a Shanghainese, it’s heartbreaking to see Shanghai like this from a country far away,” said one person on YouTube, where the video remains accessible.