SHANGHAI: Shanghai residents scuffled with hazmat-suited police ordering them to surrender their homes to Covid-19 patients, videos on social media showed, providing a rare glimpse into rising discontent in the megacity over China’s inflexible virus response.
The city of 25 million and China’s economic engine room has become the heart of the country’s biggest outbreak since the peak of the first virus wave in Wuhan over two years ago, rattling the strict zero-Covid policy.
Authorities are rushing to construct tens of thousands of beds to house Covid-19 patients as daily infections top 20,000 — small compared with parts of the world getting used to living with the virus.
Some stuck in Shanghai, locked down since early April, have flooded social media with complaints of food shortages and of over-zealous officialdom forcing them into state quarantine, challenging China’s ‘Great Firewall’ of censorship which wipes dissenting views from the internet almost as soon as they appear.
Late Thursday, videos circulated showing residents outside a compound shouting at ranks of officials holding shields labelled “police”, as the officers tried to break through their line. In one clip, police appear to make several arrests as the residents accuse them of “hitting people.”
The incident began after authorities ordered 39 households to move out of their homes to house virus patients in the development, according to Zhangjiang Group, the developer of the housing complex.
It has provided a rare window into public anger in China, where Communist authorities brook little dissent and censors routinely scrub information relating to protests from the internet. In one live-streamed video, a woman can be heard weeping and asking “why are they taking an old person away?” as officials appeared to put someone into a car.
Zhangjiang Group said it had compensated the tenants and moved them into other units in the same compound. The group recognised that videos of the compound that had “appeared on the internet” on Thursday and said “the situation had now settled down” after “some tenants obstructed the construction” of a quarantine fence.
Search results for the name of the apartment complex disappeared from China’s Twitter-like Weibo by Friday morning. Some Shanghai residents have poured their anger at the handling of the virus onto the internet.
They have ripped into authorities for allowing food shortages as well as heavy-handed controls, including the killing of a pet corgi by a health worker and a now-softened policy of separating infected children from their virus-free parents.
Other videos and audio clips have indicated increasing desperation among city inhabitants, including some showing residents bursting through barricades demanding food. In one unverified viral video, a drone flying through a residential area broadcast a message urging residents to “control your soul’s desire for freedom”.
The vast majority of virus cases detected each day are in people with no symptoms — and there have been no deaths officially reported in the city since this outbreak. Shanghai health official Wu Qianyu said on Thursday that there were only nine severe cases, mostly older patients with underlying health conditions.
Yet authorities have vowed the city “would not relax in the slightest”, preparing over a hundred new quarantine facilities to receive every person who tests positive. Pressure on the city to bring its outbreak under control is mounting from above, with President Xi Jinping warning on Wednesday that strict virus measures “cannot be relaxed” and proclaiming that “persistence is victory,” in a speech published by state media.