House-bound Shanghai residents challenge China's 'zero-COVID' policy as cases drop

·3-min read

Most of Beijing's subway stations closed due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19 reopened on Sunday, and shoppers returned to malls as the Chinese capital relaxed pandemic restrictions after declaring a small but persistent outbreak effectively under control.

A partial reopening of stores and offices in Beijing was welcomed by a weary populace and struggling shopkeepers eager for life to return to normal.

Coupled with a gradual easing of restrictions in Shanghai, it signalled that the worst is over in the twin outbreaks in China's most prominent cities.

While cases are rapidly declining, the city's 21 million inhabitants are theoretically free to leave their homes. Still, in practice, this decision rests on their residential committees: a grassroots self-governing body the ruling CCP relies on to enforce public health rules including the country's coronavirus restrictions.

In many parts of the city, only one person per household is allowed out for essential reasons or on designated dates. However, other community members say their governing representatives have refused to allow them out at all.

The authorities have promised to ease restrictions in June but some frustrated residents have confronted their local watchdogs.

“We have already been given at least three different dates when we are going to reopen, and none of them were real,” said Weronika Truszczynska, a graduate student from Poland who posted vlogs about her experience.

“The residential committee told us you can wait a week, we are going to reopen probably on 1 June,” she said. “No one believed it.”

'Brave enough to protest'

More than a dozen residents within her complex, many under umbrellas on a rainy day, confronted their managers on Tuesday, two days after the Sunday night breakout at the upscale Huixianju compound.

Residents from the upmarket neighbourhood took to the streets to decry lockdown restrictions imposed by their community rule enforcers.

The community, who were mostly Chinese, demanded to be allowed to leave without time limits or restrictions on how many per household. After the demands were not met, some returned to protest a second day. This time, four police officers stood watch.

On Thursday afternoon, community representatives knocked on the doors of each resident with a new policy: write their name and apartment number on a list, take a temperature check, scan a barcode — and they were free to leave.

"We got the possibility of going out just because we were brave enough to protest,” Truszczynska said of her fellow residents.

The triumphant story quickly spread on chat groups across the Chinese city, prompting other communities to do the same.

By the end of the week, other groups of residents had confronted management in their complexes, and some have secured the right to leave their compounds.

The Shanghai lockdown has also prompted resistance from people being taken away to quarantine and workers required to sleep at their workplaces.

Employees from a factory operated by Taiwan's Quanta Computer Inc. took to social media to communicate that they had tried to force their way out of the facility in early May.

The Communist Party’s strict anti-virus campaign has been aided by an urban environment in which hundreds of millions of people in China live in gated apartment compounds or walled neighbourhoods that can be easily blocked off.

While criticism of China's hard-line on the virus continues to grow many restaurants and non-essential businesses remain closed across the city.

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