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Shanghai residents speak out against China's zero COVID strategy


Shanghai residents have been unusually outspoken about their anger and worries over China's zero COVID strategy. An almost-total lockdown is now stretching into its second month there. And it's something Don Weinland is navigating. He's the China business and finance editor for The Economist.

Don, welcome.


MARTÍNEZ: Can you describe what you're experiencing in Shanghai right now?

WEINLAND: Yeah, sure. So I've been locked inside my hotel room for, I guess, approaching about 50 days now. And, you know, a lot of the city is shut in their homes. It's been difficult to get food at times, especially during the beginning. But yeah - and we still don't know when this is going to end.

MARTÍNEZ: Have you been alone in your room all this time?

WEINLAND: No. Fortunately, my wife is here with me.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. How has this lockdown changed daily life for people there in Shanghai?

WEINLAND: Well, I mean, as you can imagine, you know, this is one of the world's biggest cities. And basically, everybody has been locked inside for at least a month. So yeah - I mean, the streets are very empty. Restaurants and shops are closed. You know, all the large buildings in the city are, you know, not active. So yeah - I mean, it's a huge change to normal life.

MARTÍNEZ: How often do you get to go outside, if at all?

WEINLAND: I go outside about once a day - downstairs to take a PCR test. But that's about it.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, does that mean you're leaving your hotel or just leaving your room?

WEINLAND: Leaving the hotel.


WEINLAND: So the PCR test is done next door. And I walk downstairs, do the test. I can kind of sneak around and stroll around on a neighboring street and then head back to my hotel.

MARTÍNEZ: So in those instances when you have been able to sneak out, what's some of the weirdest or most unusual things you've seen?

WEINLAND: Well, I mean - so the health workers here generally dress in white hazmat suits. So, you know, as you're strolling around here, you know, the streets are empty, except for often long lines of these workers in white. So yeah, that's a very odd thing to see coming down the street - you know, a line of 20 people in white hazmat suits.

MARTÍNEZ: And what about cars on the road? Is it one of those things where it feels deserted, like it's some kind of apocalypse movie or something like that?

WEINLAND: It does feel like that sometimes. Looking out my window, I can see a freeway. And the traffic on the freeway has picked up recently. But if you're on - if you're downstairs on a normal road - I mean, they are very, very empty right now. So it does feel very strange.

MARTÍNEZ: Some footage out of Shanghai has included images of people pushing back on these measures and literally kicking at barriers. I mean, is that surprising to you? Have you seen any of that?

WEINLAND: I haven't seen any of that with my own eyes. I've seen plenty of footage of it on social media. I'm not really that surprised, to be honest. I mean, I - you know, people have their limits here, just like anywhere else. And yeah, I mean, when somebody gets boxed in to their home with a, you know, a metal gate or a fence, I'm not terribly surprised to see people kicking them down.

MARTÍNEZ: And how is this lockdown, you think, maybe fueling dissent there in Shanghai? I mean, I can imagine just that eventually people break. I mean, they have to, right?

WEINLAND: Yes. I mean, a lot of the anger has been over, you know, mistakes that the government has made. In the early days, it was very hard to get food. And I think a lot of people in the city were struggling to get even basic vegetables. So yeah, people were very angry about that. There's been a lot of, you know, stuff circulating online where you have these health workers sometimes beating people up. And yeah, that has made people very angry as well.

MARTÍNEZ: Do you have any sense, Don, of what overall impact the COVID crisis in China is having on government authority there?

WEINLAND: Well, you know, it's - the way that the system is built - I mean, I think there's certainly - this problem is undermining the local government here in Shanghai, without a doubt. So, you know, we'll see over the next month or so whether or not any officials here get punished for what's going on. In terms of the, you know, the central government, I don't think it's going to have much of an impact on those people in Beijing.

MARTÍNEZ: And is it actually working? Is this lockdown actually working? Is Shanghai seeing a drop in cases?

WEINLAND: It is, actually. Cases have come down quite significantly just over the past couple days. Hopefully, we'll be out soon.

MARTÍNEZ: And Shanghai's a major city. I mean, how do you think it comes back from being locked down for so long, even economically?

WEINLAND: Yeah, it's an interesting question. I mean, if you just think about, you know, say, all the small businesses and restaurants around the city, you know, their staff have been out of work for weeks. The owners have - you know, maybe they've not been able to pay the rent. You know, there's kind of a chain effect of payments that will ripple across the city - really already is. So yeah, that's a huge problem.

MARTÍNEZ: Don Weinland is the China business and finance editor for The Economist.

Don, thanks a lot.

WEINLAND: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.