On March 29, China reported 6,886 new domestic COVID-19 cases nationwide. Around two-thirds of these cases – more than 4,400 cases – were detected in Shanghai, which has become the epicenter of the country's latest and worst COVID-19 wave since the early days of the pandemic. (Related: World braces for renewed supply chain crisis as COVID outbreaks shut down highly vaccinated China.)
Images filtering out of Shanghai show supermarkets all over the city almost completely cleared out by residents rushing to stock up on essential goods before being forced into lockdown.
"After being unable to grab any groceries this morning, I went back to sleep, and all I dreamt about was buying food at the supermarket," wrote one resident on Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media and microblogging platform. "I'd never have thought that society today would be worried over buying groceries."
"The queues I saw at supermarkets and wet markets stretched out the door and down the street with some only letting in a limited number of customers at a time," said one resident in an interview with BBC. "At a busy wet market on a side street, a butcher pulled out a fresh slab of pork. Customers crowded around him, pointing and calling out to get a cut."
"Our days are filled with chaotic COVID testing and hectic online shopping. I've set an alarm to wake up at 6 a.m. every day so that I can make an online order for fresh food, as sometimes orders get canceled because items are out of stock or there aren't any available delivery drivers," said another resident. "There is a lot of waiting, and little answers."
While many people in Shanghai are worried about having enough food to last the entirety of the lockdown, others are worried they will be fired due to their long, involuntary absence from work.
Shanghai's airports, railway stations and ports that cater to international shipping remain operational. The municipal government is also offering tax and rent relief for businesses affected by the lockdowns.
In the past, when Beijing heard of cities experiencing outbreaks, it would implement its so-called "zero-COVID strategy" and order tyrannical lockdowns that prevented affected populations from leaving their homes for almost any reason. This strategy has been increasingly challenged by the lack of evidence proving its effectiveness.
In Shanghai, the financial center of the Chinese economy, local leaders first attempted to control the outbreak using localized lockdowns that completely isolated certain neighborhoods or buildings while keeping the rest of the city running as normal.
On March 27, Beijing decided to step in and enforce a lockdown that split the city into eastern and western halves along the Huangpu River.
Residents living in the Pudong district on the eastern bank of the river were told they would enter lockdown for four days starting on March 28. Meanwhile, people living in the historic Puxi area of the city, composed of seven districts on the western banks of the river, will enter lockdown starting April 1.
Other programs in Beijing's zero-COVID strategy were still being implemented, including mass COVID-19 testing.
Several exhibition halls around the city were already converted by communist authorities into quarantine centers. Conditions in these quarantine centers are terrible.
"The conditions of the makeshift quarantine center I'm in are pretty tough," said Wang, a Shanghai resident in Pudong interviewed by AFP, who entered one of the centers on March 26 after testing positive. She and around 2,500 people were forced into camp beds grouped in the quarantine center's main hall.
"The bathroom conditions are not good enough, they are cleaned twice per day, but there are too many people [using them]," she added. "It's pretty bad."
Read more COVID-related stories at Pandemic.news.
Watch this short clip of a supermarket in Shanghai, taken at 3 a.m. on March 24, as people rush to purchase essential supplies for their brief lockdown.