Metal barriers erected during Shanghai’s latest ‘zero-COVID’ movement, fueling fresh public outcry

Shanghai government volunteers and workers have erected metal barriers in several districts to block off back streets and entrances to apartment complexes, as China toughens its strict “zero-COVID” approach in its biggest city despite growing complaints from residents.

In the city’s financial district, Pudong, the barriers – thin metal sheets or mesh fences – were erected in several districts under a directive from the local government, according to Caixin, a Chinese business media outlet. Buildings where cases have been found have sealed off their main entrances, with a small opening for pandemic prevention workers to pass through.

In Beijing, authorities announced a mass test from Monday in the Chaoyang district, which is home to more than three million people in the Chinese capital.

The announcement sparked panic buying on Sunday night, with vegetables, eggs, soy sauce and other items wiped out from grocery store shelves.

A new outbreak has infected at least 41 people, including 26 in Chaoyang district, state broadcaster CGTN reported.

Workers wearing personal protective equipment spray disinfectant on a colleague during a COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai’s Jing’an district on Sunday. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

China reported 21,796 new community-transmitted COVID-19 infections on Sunday, the vast majority of which were asymptomatic cases in Shanghai. Across the country, many cities and provinces have imposed some version of lockdown in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.

The latest outbreak, caused by the highly contagious variant of Omicron, has spread nationwide, but was particularly prominent in Shanghai. The city, a financial hub of 25 million people, has had hundreds of thousands of cases but fewer than 100 deaths since the outbreak began nearly two months ago.

An Associated Press review of the death toll found that despite a history of narrow criteria for linking deaths to particular illnesses, particularly COVID-19, authorities have changed the way they count positive cases, which leaves wiggle room in how they arrive at a final death count. The result is almost certainly an undercount of the true death toll.

On social media, people posted videos of the new barriers put in place on Saturday, with some expressing anger at the measures. The barriers are meant to leave major roads clear, Caixin reported.

In one video, verified by the AP, residents leaving a building in Shanghai’s Xuhui district broke through the chain-link fence at its main entrance and went in search of the security guard they believed responsible for erecting it.

On Sunday, a resident looks out the window of a residential building in Shanghai’s Jing’an district. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

Shanghai uses a tiered system in which neighborhoods are divided into three categories based on transmission risk. Those in the first category are facing the strictest COVID-19 controls and have been the main target of the new tightened measures. In the third category, some buildings allow people to leave their homes and visit public spaces.

In Shanghai, authorities reported 39 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the official death toll to 4,725 by the end of Saturday, the National Health Commission said Sunday.

The city’s lockdown has drawn worldwide attention for its strict approach and sometimes dangerous consequences. Many townspeople have struggled to shop, resorting to bartering and buying in bulk. Others were unable to receive adequate medical care in time, due to strict movement controls.

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Chinese netizens shared a six-minute video titled “Voices of April” on Friday that documents some of the city’s toughest public moments during the nearly month-long lockdown. One section features audio recordings of residents of a community in Shanghai protesting on April 8, shouting, “Send us food! Send us food! Send us food!” in unison.

The video covered WeChat timelines before it was abruptly deleted by censors on Saturday.

Chinese authorities have continued to say that the “zero-COVID” strategy is the best way forward given the low vaccination rates among people over 60, and that omicron would cause many deaths and serious illnesses if the country was ending its strict approach.