(Photos: Chen Jing)
There was no need to don PPE gear, show a negative PCR test result or be questioned by the security guard as to when I’d be back. It was much easier than I thought to step out of my residential compound again. But of course, this all hinged on the hard-earned exit-entry pass I had in my hand.
With the joint efforts of nearly 1,000 residents, everyone in my residential compound finally tested negative for Covid-19 last week. We were declared a Covid-free residential area and given our exit-entry passes. After being cooped up for nearly two months, we could finally step out and see the outside world again.
A day before we received our exit-entry passes, residents started discussing their day-out plans in our group chat. A neighbour reminded us to bring water as not many places sold bottled water.
Another neighbour added, “Don’t go too far as there aren’t many toilets available as well.” The exchange sounded as if we were going out into the woods instead of metropolitan Shanghai.
How was this different from ordering delivery from the comfort of my home?
A walk on the street
Fifty-five days after Shanghai entered lockdown, I stepped onto the streets with uncertainty and anticipation. Just as my neighbours said, most of the stores were still shuttered and sealed off. Looking at a shopping guide provided by the residential committee, I found one of the few convenience stores in the area that was open. However, the gate was shut even though the lights were on.
An employee seated at the entrance said that as a pandemic precautionary measure, customers were not allowed to enter the store. I would need to place an order on a delivery platform and also hit a minimum spend of at least 50 RMB (US$7.50).
How was this different from ordering delivery from the comfort of my home? The employee chuckled, “You can save 5 RMB on delivery fee if you choose to pick up your order at the store.”
It seemed that there was nothing much for people to do, except, of course, to take a PCR test at the outdoor testing stations.
There were definitely more vehicles and pedestrians on the road than before the lockdown, granted that the vehicles were mostly delivery scooters and people were just strolling about, taking photographs.
It seemed that there was nothing much for people to do, except, of course, to take a PCR test at the outdoor testing stations. For a minute of their time to get a negative result, they could gain access to public venues and public transport for the next 48 hours.
A season gone by
Entering the city centre via subway, I saw rows of deserted shopping malls with only flashing electronic screens outside the shop windows to greet the odd visitor.
A five- or six-year-old boy pulled his mother’s hand, urging her to go inside the mall, but the young mother replied, “It’s not open yet, let’s take some photos outside.”
Dated promotional banners themed “The Awakening of Spring” still hung outside the mall, although lush trees on the sidewalk already signalled the arrival of summer. A season has gone by amid a lockdown extended from four days to two months.
When I spoke to passersby about how they felt about the past two months, many of them still had lingering fears. An elderly Shanghainese lady sighed and said that this was the first time in her 70 years that she has experienced a lockdown.
Unlike the swift and sudden lockdown, the delayed lifting of the lockdown has unfolded with caution.
Meanwhile, a young British chap who has been a Shanghai resident for five years said that for the first time, he did not feel safe in this cosmopolitan city and was thinking of moving to another city, because “who knows when Shanghai will return to normal”.
Unlike the swift and sudden lockdown, the delayed lifting of the lockdown has unfolded with caution. Just half a day into the resumption of operations, the Global Harbor shopping mall was instructed by the authorities to suspend operations. Furthermore, “internet celebrity street” Anfu Road was barricaded again on 28 May after one night of drinking, dancing and wild partying.
Meanwhile, my friends have received notifications from their companies about going back to work, and the mall near my home is also set to reopen on 1 June.
Shanghai’s “two steps forward, one step back” cycle between lockdown and the lifting of restrictions is expected to continue for a long time to come. As the city gets back on its feet after being in limbo for so long, 25 million people can look forward to a new normal.
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