A policeman watches residents queuing for COVID tests in Shanghai.

Chen Si/AP


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Chen Si/AP


A policeman watches residents queuing for COVID tests in Shanghai.

Chen Si/AP

For nine years, I lived in a giant apartment complex called the Summit with hundreds of other people in the city of Shanghai.

My family and I left China months before the pandemic, but I still keep in touch with some of my former neighbors through the WeChat group messaging platform, where I saw this video.

It’s a government drone elsewhere in Shanghai, warning people who were singing from their balconies. The message reads: “Please respect the COVID restrictions. Control your soul’s desire for freedom. Do not open the window and do not sing.”

As China continues to pursue a zero-COVID strategy, the 26 million citizens of its most populous city are under varying degrees of lockdown amid a coronavirus surge.

Find coping strategies

When a drone issues a recorded warning against singing, sometimes all you can do is laugh.

“Honestly, one of the only ways to survive this lockdown is to see it through some kind of humor. These are circulating and we almost laugh about it,” says Ha Chuong, who was one of my neighbors at Summit. .

She and her husband, Nadav Davidai, and their two children have had to maintain a healthy sense of humor lately as Shanghai approaches its sixth week of citywide COVID lockdown. They have not been able to leave their apartment building since April 1.

Hundreds of people have been held inside the Summit building in Shanghai since the lockdown began.

Rob Schmitz/NPR


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Rob Schmitz/NPR


Hundreds of people have been held inside the Summit building in Shanghai since the lockdown began.

Rob Schmitz/NPR

Since then, the Summit Apartment’s WeChat group has taken on new life as an information center for food delivery and required COVID testing, and as a place to complain together and help each other.

“It was really kind of a lifeline. We had no connection to the outside world,” Chuong said. “We even started a Q&A group on Friday night, which was pretty cool.”

For Davidai, the WeChat group currently has two gears.

“There are these good times, of a kind of levity and community, mixed in with what’s going on, kind of stuff,” he said.

Life inside the summit means near-daily COVID testing, carried out by medical teams in full Tyvek suits. What was originally supposed to be a four-day lockdown dragged on. And on.

It’s become a meme that riffs on the “+4” card in the popular card game Uno, and which in turn has become another crutch not to cry.

It was also a helpful way to conceptualize the problem for Chuong and Davidai’s two young children.

“It was difficult for them,” Chuong said. “And so our eldest, who is 9 years old, had heard about this meme through her friends. And that, in the end, really helped her mentally to cope … because she to that Uno meme and said, ‘Plus four, plus four, plus four.'”

Reach a breaking point

The optimistic attitude did not always hold, however.

In a video shared on the Summit WeChat group, workers in blue Tyvek coveralls began erecting metal barriers at the Summit Tower entrance earlier this month because someone had tested positive the day before.

Dozens of people can be heard shouting from their windows in protest. It worked – and the barriers were removed.

“When they introduced fencing, that was, for me, one of the lowest points so far in this lockdown,” Chuong said. “They were going to lock us up, and it was just all this pent up frustration inside of us.”

Summit residents shout in protest against the erection of fences.

In another district of Shanghai, Ming is also struggling to reconcile this new life. She’s a nanny in a fairly affluent neighborhood who asked that we only use her first name for her own safety.

Ming said she “years for freedom” but also worries about the risks, as Shanghai is still recording around 2,000 infections a day after living without any surges for the past two years.

“I’m a bit on both sides, because I have my grandparents, who are old, and I have grandchildren in my family. I don’t want to take the risk of losing my family,” he said. she declared.

Still, she doesn’t know where to get her information from and is skeptical of the government’s handling of the outbreak. She said her friend lived in a building where residents were running out of food and could no longer afford supplies.

“And they had, like, the whole building screaming, ‘We need food! But it didn’t make the headlines… But after that, they got, like, government food a couple of times,” she said.

For Chuong and Davidai, they are aware that they are luckier than many in the city. In fact, a month ago, at the start of the lockdown, when residents of Summit discovered that there were building staff who were stuck at their workplaces after the resort lockdown was announced, they came together in the Summit WeChat group to organize a fundraiser that resulted in bedding and other daily necessities for Summit employees who slept in the resort’s basement.

And Chuong and Davidai also have another way of seeing the pandemic as a whole.

“One perspective that I think maybe people in the United States don’t really understand is that they see this [lockdown] and it gives a horrible optic,” Davidai said. “But we felt incredibly lucky to be in China. From March 2020, when we came back from Singapore, until a month ago, it was the best place to be in the world.”

The zero COVID policy had worked, and her family had been able to live normal lives: going on vacation and keeping the kids safe in school throughout the pandemic.

“And so, I mean, the zero-COVID policy has really benefited us,” Davidai said. “It was a real boon for us for a long time. And it’s very different now, obviously, but a bit overall, I don’t know.”