People in Shanghai scramble to bulk-buy food amid shortages arising from harsh Covid-19 lockdown

Business Insider US
A delivery man takes an online medicine order from a drugstore in Shanghai, April 10, 2022
Chen Jianli/Xinhua via Getty Images
  • A brutal Covid-19 lockdown in Shanghai has left many scrambling for food.
  • People aren't allowed to visit stores, and delivery services are often sold out there.
  • So people have been trying to by bulk straight from suppliers, then bartering with neighbours.
  • For more stories go to

People in Shanghai took desperate measures to avoid going hungry as a sweeping lockdown confined millions of people to their homes amid dwindling supplies.

The Chinese city of 26 million has been hit by intermittent shortages during the lockdown, which began on  28 March but has been extended.

The lockdown, much harsher than those seen in Europe or North America, precluded people from leaving their homes to buy groceries, and left delivery services unable to cope.

The government in Shanghai made some efforts to give people food directly, but many found the deliveries were unreliable or insufficient.

Officials said the lockdown would ease on 5 April, but it was then extended indefinitely, exacerbating food supply problems, The Guardian reported

The city has seen record numbers of cases in its latest Omicron wave, after having largely avoided the pandemic through most of 2020 and 2021. Monday was the 10th straight day of record new case numbers, according to the South China Morning Post

With regular delivery services unable to feed people, some groups of residents formed ad-hoc collectives to buy direct from wholesalers, according to The Guardian.

Energy consultant David Fishman described the process on Twitter.

 Groups club together to place massive orders with bulk suppliers on the edge of the city, he said:

After acquiring often impractically large amounts of a few foodstuffs, people then negotiate among themselves to trade other foods that could make a meal, he said.

As of Friday, China's Twitter-like platform Weibo appeared to be censoring posts about the food shortages, as Insider's Waiyee Yip and Weilun Soon reported

As well as movement restrictions, residents must take regular tests. Those who test positive are taken to centralised temporary hospitals, some of which, according to Sky News, have dire conditions.

A health worker administers a COVID-19 test to a Shanghai resident on April 10 2022
Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

Drones have been dispatched with messages reminding residents of the lockdown rules, according to The Economist correspondent Alice Su, who posted the following video to Twitter:

There has been mounting disquiet despite the warnings.

One widely-shared video appeared to show people screaming from their windows. The video, which is no longer available on Weibo, was shared on Twitter on Saturday by Patrick Madrid. 

Over the screams and yells, a narrator speaking in a Shanghai accent says that "everyone is screaming now." 

"Things are gonna get real bad," the voice says, saying that residents were confused and had been given no explanation for the circumstances. "Something bad's going to happen if this keeps going," the voice added. 

It is one of several such videos, though Insider was not able to verify it. Local media outlets covering the lockdown posted video compilations on their Weibo pages in an attempt to debunk it.

The outlets said the district's local committee had organised a sing-along session that was called off, leading to residents yelling in protest at the cancellation.

The outlets said that there had been some instances of people yelling from their apartments in protest in a practice called "han lou" (literally translated as "screaming from one's flat"), but said that this was sporadic and had stopped.

Local officials moved to allow some e-commerce, supermarkets and pharmacies to resume operations, SCMP reported. 

As of Monday, some areas of the city were released from the strictest measures, subject to there being no positive cases for two weeks, officials said, according to Reuters. In those instances residents would be allowed to socialize in a socially-distanced manner in their neighborhood only, the outlet reported.

As of Monday, that applied to 7,565 areas out of a total of 17,649 defined by officials, the outlet reported. 

Translations by Cheryl Teh

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