Apr. 30, 2022 -- Residents of Shanghai, China’s financial capital and most populous city, have been going online to air complaints about the government’s “zero-COVID” strategy that has kept many of them locked up in their residences for a month.

They have gone onto WeChat notes and Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, to say they are trapped inside, facing lack of food, transportation, and access to medical care. Little dissent is tolerated in China, and the complaints are being quickly taken down by government censors, though copies continue to circulate on other social media platforms.

“The virus won’t kill us, but hunger will,” a man says in a now-blocked video titled “Voices of April” in which a number of Shanghai residents voiced their desperation, Al Jazeera reported.

“Can I please have some antipyretic drugs? My child is running a high fever, but hospitals are not giving us fever reducers,” a woman said on the video.

While other countries are trying to live with and manage COVID while opening up their economies, China has employed a “zero-COVID” strategy, which involves doubling down with tools like contact tracing, mass testing and lockdowns to get COVID-19 numbers down to zero.

The strategy has been used aggressively in Shanghai, a city of about 25 million people, after case counts spiked because of the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant. The government divided the city into sections and applied control measures based on transmission risk.

On Friday, authorities said case counts and COVID deaths are dropping overall and that about half of the city’s population now lives in low-risk areas and can leave their homes, Reuters reported.

But many people remain under lockdown. On Saturday, authorities said Shanghai still had around 16,000 sealed-off areas in which 4 million people were prevented from leaving their homes, Reuters reported. In other areas, 5.4 million people were prevented from leaving their compounds.

"The city's epidemic and prevention control is currently still at a critical state, and the trend is still that people need to strengthen controls," said Zhao Dandan, deputy director of Shanghai's health commission, according to Reuters.

One of the most striking measures to control movement is the mesh wire fences and metal sheets installed to block roads and entrances to residential communities and sometimes even apartment building entrances, The Associated Press reported. The barriers usually leave only one small entrance that can be easily guarded.

The barriers have angered people stuck inside their buildings or neighborhoods. The Associated Press said one video showed apartment building residents tear down a fence and then search for the security guard they thought had put it up.

The barriers are being used in other cities to some degree and were also installed during the early days of the pandemic in Wuhan, where COVID first surfaced in late 2019.

Show Sources

Al Jazeera. “‘Like Wuhan all over again’: As Shanghai protests, China censors”

Reuters. “More than 12 million in Shanghai can leave homes as COVID risk ebbs”

Reuters. “Shanghai marks COVID milestone, Beijing on edge”

The Associated Press. “EXPLAINER: How China is using metal barriers to fight COVID”

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