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Rolling coverage of a city trudging toward normalcy.
After almost two months of total lockdown, Shanghai is gradually reopening. On this page, Sixth Tone will bring you regular updates on the city as we're seeing it.
Thanks for Saving the City. Now Move That Tent!
SHANGHAI — For weeks, thousands of delivery workers have been living on the streets to bring food and other essentials to Shanghai’s locked-down millions. Many had to sign pledges not to re-enter their apartment buildings and wound up living in tents. Now that the city’s opening up, they’re being told to get packing, five delivery drivers told Sixth Tone.
Wei Xiao, a Meituan driver in Jing’an district, told Sixth Tone that he’s been hiding since he saw police and police cars gathered at the intersection of North Baoxing Road and Yanchang Road on Thursday at 8 p.m., dispersing rough sleepers and asking them to put away their tents. Wei Xiao is a pseudonym to protect the source’s privacy.
Tents in a pavilion where delivery drivers has been living for the last two months, Baoshan District, Shanghai, May 27, 2022. Xie Anran/Sixth Tone
Two Ele.me drivers resting under a viaduct told Sixth Tone that over the past weeks, the government has sealed off many sleeping spaces under the viaduct with baffles to prevent the drivers from staying overnight.
“If you get dispersed here, you move to another place, and then get dispersed and move again. Sometimes you can’t sleep all night, and you have to work the next day. This has been the case since the beginning of the lockdown,” one of the two, surnamed Zhang, said.
A Shanghai-based documentarian told Sixth Tone he’s heard many similar stories talking to drivers in Jing’an district last night. He has been following a group of delivery drivers in the past several weeks and documented their hunt for a place to stay in a Twitter thread on Thursday night.
“There were tents being told to move every now and then but yesterday was much more intense. Suddenly they have nowhere to go,” he said.
Food delivery platforms Meituan and Ele.me announced in their apps for drivers Thursday afternoon that camping will no longer be allowed after June 1. “All delivery riders must find accommodation or return to the community, and are not allowed to sleep on the streets, bridges, and public places, and are not allowed to set up tents or sleeping bags in non-government or platform placement sites,” the announcement wrote. “Riders who sleep on the streets will be urged to return, their e-passes will be canceled, and legal responsibilities will be pursued if they do not cooperate with law enforcement.”
It’s easier said than done. “For now, my residential compound won’t let me in, and I don’t know where the free hotels are,” Wei said.
A driver views the notice on moving away tents in Putuo District, Shanghai, May 27, 2022. Lü Xiao/Sixth Tone
To avoid being noticed by the police, Wei set up his tent behind a stand of bamboo Thursday night. “The bamboo is very dense. My tent has a camouflage pattern. People can hardly see me,” Wei told Sixth Tone. “Believe it or not, I set up the tent right next to a police station.”
Wei said some of his driver peers encountered the dispersal yesterday, and had to keep moving around until they were able to settle down after midnight. “Police don’t care any more after 12:00 am,” Wei said. “Now, I can hardly see tents on the streets during the day.”
Wei got a pass permit by registering as a full-time driver for Meituan, and started to work and live on the streets from May 10. Before the lockdown, Wei was a part-time Meituan driver and worked multiple hourly jobs to make ends meet in Shanghai.
Wei is upset about the wretched situation faced by thousands of delivery drivers like him. “If the deadline set by the platform is June 1, why do they start dispersing us now?” Wei asked.
— Wu Peiyue, Ye Zhanhang, Lü Xiao; editor: David Cohen.
It was a precious day out Wednesday for people living in Xinjing area, Changning District. The neighborhood announced a new round of PCR tests on Monday, and then residents with exit passes could go out Wednesday and Friday. The streets even got a little crowded.
Many people headed to the supermarket. You need four things to get in: a green digital health code, a negative PCR result from within the last 48 hours, an exit pass issued by the same subdistrict, and an invitation card from the store.
The supermarket was the only shop open in the whole mall. With most of the lights off, the lobby looked spooky. The subway station right next door was closed too, with one of the entrances blocked with barriers and share bikes.
Residents line up at the entrance of Hema in Changning District, Shanghai, May 23, 2022. Chen Si/Sixth Tone
In front of Hema, part of a grocery store chain run by Alibaba, there were 15 to 20 people lined up, waiting for about 15 minutes to get in.
Some found themselves unable to enter, as they had failed to obtain an invitation card. These cards, which are issued by local residential committees, are in short supply.
Inside the supermarket, most of the shelves were empty. There wasn’t much to choose from, but customers enjoyed the feeling of shopping and grabbed as much as they could.
The snacks and drinks section was the only area where the shelves were full. Every customer was only allowed to buy two of each item.
While most people went shopping, some just hung out on the street and tried to enjoy nature. Along the Xinjing river, several old men found their favorite spots and started fishing.
Mr. Wang fishes in the Xinjing River, Changning District, Shanghai, May 23, 2022. Chen Si/Sixth Tone
Wang, 78, has been sitting here and fishing for over three hours, and has caught five big fish and three little ones. He is only allowed to be out for four hours each time by the community. With not much time left, he was hoping to get one more fish before heading back home.
Wang was in the navy in his 20s, and he’s always felt a tight bond with the water. He said lockdown wasn’t too hard, except that he couldn’t go fishing.
This is his second time fishing since the lockdown began. The first was Monday, May 23.
“When people reach a certain age, it becomes hard to stay home all day. I need to get out, walk, and do some exercise. Otherwise, there’s not much I can do,” said Wang. “I’m so glad that I can finally go fishing again and breathe in some nature. Just being here makes me happy.”
— Chen Si; editor: David Cohen.
Shanghai is set to resume in-person classes for most high school students on June 6 after more than two months of virtual lessons due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the city’s education authority said Thursday. Similarly, those in their final year of middle school are allowed to go back to school on June 13.
The city’s lockdown has disrupted class schedules for high school seniors preparing for the grueling college entrance exams, or gaokao. Those studying for the high school enrollment exams, or zhongkao, have also been affected.
Shanghai postponed both the gaokao and zhongkao by a month in early May amid a worsening coronavirus outbreak. The exams will be held in July this year.
Though students can return for in-person classes early next month, authorities also emphasized they wouldn’t be mandatory for now. Students and their families can continue opting for online classes.
— Ni Dandan; editor: Bibek Bhandari.
View From a Pudong Mall
It was drizzling Tuesday afternoon, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of some Pudong New Area residents from venturing to the mall. After all, they’ve been locked in for weeks.
The upscale Taikoo Li Qiantan is the first such venue to reopen in the city’s financial district after nearly two months of lockdown. It opened its doors for visitors Friday.
This week, many residential compounds in Pudong have been gradually relaxing restrictions and allowing people to step outside for a limited time — though days and duration vary from one community to another. They can walk, bike, or use their moped — not their cars though.
A few supermarkets and convenience stores are open, along with the Taikoo Li Qiantan mall.
At Taikoo Li, the three entries into the shopping mall were not as busy as expected. Before entering, visitors scanned their health QR code and had their body temperature taken. They were then given a sticker, indicating they were good to go.
“It’s not busy on weekdays,” said a security guard. “But we received many visitors last weekend. Around 40 businesses in the mall have resumed operations —most of them are coffee shops, restaurants, and a few designer stores.”
A burger shop prepares takeaway food for clients at Taikoo Li Qiantan mall, Shanghai, May 24, 2022. Ni Dandan/Sixth Tone
Most visitors walked around the mall and its outdoors space, taking photos and filming their first trip to a mall in weeks. Children in raincoats and boots splashed the rainwater in the puddles.
Inside, most shops kept visitors a few meters away from their entrance. The shops also had QR codes for people to scan and place their orders online.
A few people waited outside a designer store that was only allowing two to three customers each time. Some were waiting for their takeouts, as the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafted in the air.
“All of our pizzas are sold out,” said Hao Jie, a member of staff at a restaurant serving Western food, adding they ran out of stock in just three hours after opening on Tuesday.
A receptionist at a restaurant serving cuisine from the southwestern Guizhou province said they were experiencing a staff shortage in the face of an increased demand for food. They were also having difficulties sourcing necessary ingredients for certain dishes.
“But the reopening is a good start,” said the woman.
The mall has banned indoor dining but there is an outdoor space that allows visitors to eat or drink. A handful of people lingered there despite the drizzle, and all had their masks on.
While many had come to the mall for the first time since it shut in late March, some hadn’t left at all.
A sanitation worker named Wang Xiafeng, along with some 30 others, have spent the entire lockdown inside Taikoo Li Qiantan. They lived in a designated area on the second floor and carried out their daily tasks despite there not being any visitors.
“I chose to stay because I want to be fully paid,” she said. “For people like me, who are far away from home, the main purpose of life is to make money. Luckily, my income hasn’t been impacted.”
— Ni Dandan; editor: Bibek Bhandari.
A Day Out in One District
People chatting across a fence on a sunny day. A line at the grocery store. A strawberry ice cream handed to you at a convenience store door. It may sound normal elsewhere, but this last weekend in Shanghai, they felt like little miracles.
After a few false starts, the reopening of Shanghai has begun, one downtown district at a time. Many residents of Changning, a district just northwest of the city center, spent the weekend outside for the first time in just over 50 days.
This wasn’t the first time people have been allowed out, but it’s the largest scale move toward opening since the start of the lockdown. Across the district, communities allowed designated stores to open to locals, and issued exit passes allowing residents to go out. A few subway lines are even running, taking a few passengers to airports and train stations.
Packaging boxes are piled up next to a compound gate in Changning District, Shanghai, May 23, 2022. Dave Cohen/Sixth Tone
It came as a surprise to us. Shanghai has laid out a rough reopening timeline for the end of June, but details are scarce, and the great majority of the city is still locked down.
I got my pass Friday, and at first I wasn’t sure what I could do with it: it says on the back that each household is to send only one person to the shops every other day, for no more than three hours, and asks you to write what time you leave so they can check.
The truth was a lot more accomodating. The next day, our “building monitor” handed us another pass and encouraged us to use them to take a walk — and we quickly found that we weren’t alone.
There are checkpoints — I think they’re at the boundaries of the district — at which police ask to see the passes. And stores seem to take the restrictions seriously, turning away people without a local pass. And at least one subdistrict in Changning changed its mind Monday, telling residents their passes had been suspended.
On our first walk, people seemed dazed. Last time we were out, the trees were bare; now it’s the humid start of summer.
Left: Residents enjoy sunshine by the roadside in Changning District, May 21; right: A man gets his hair cut at the entrance of a compound in Changning District, Shanghai, May 22, 2022. Bibek Bhandari/Sixth Tone
Many wandered in the middle of the streets, or stood taking pictures of once-ordinary scenes. Two women sat in a bus shelter, chatting as though it were a cafe table. Some streets were covered in the remains of months of delivery, with mountains of cardboard and styrofoam boxes cascading out of doorways. But by Sunday, the Shanghai spring felt a little more real, and we passed more people out for a promenade or a bike ride.
We seem to have the run of the district for exercise, but we’re only allowed to shop in our own subdistrict, an area of about a square mile. It’s got a few convenience stores and a small grocery store with a prohibitively long line. The official list for my subdistrict includes a supermarket, but it’s not actually letting people in. Several nearby subdistricts even got to visit a Carrefour supermarket chain.
A few restaurants and delis were open for delivery, but wouldn’t serve takeout to customers. You can go on an app and order a delivery driver to pick up some takeout and hand it to you.
So mostly what there is to do is to walk. And people are walking. For now, that’s enough.
— Dave Cohen; editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: People scan health codes to enter a super market in Pudong District, Shanghai, May 19, 2022))
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