Why Shanghai sticks with zero-COVID policy (Part 2) - facts from the ground
People reacted differently to the virus, as evidenced by firsthand accounts from ordinary people in Shanghai.
Following the last post on Chairman Rabbit’s recent post about China's zero-COVID strategy, Ginger River here presents two grassroots accounts of the situation that may provide more context and details for understanding China's zero-COVID policy.
The first piece, which was posted on Wechat on April 4, is from Mr. 江翔宇 Jiang Xiangyu, a partner of Co-effort Law Firm LLP and a leading legal expert on financial and data security issues, who recently has assumed a new role of a volunteer worker for his community. The original title of the article is 一个上海社区防疫志愿者的个人直观认识 A direct personal observation of a community anti-COVID volunteer in Shanghai. The highlights are by Ginger River.
The second piece, which was posted on Wechat on March 31, is a diary from a researcher working at a medical research institute, who joined the COVID-19 testing work following the hospital's orders. In this post, which has been viewed more than 100,000 times, the author described her experience of dealing with community staff and residents in a one-day massive COVID-19 testing in Shanghai's Pudong. The original title is 我所经历的2022-3-30日浦东核算检测大筛查 The massive nucleic acid testing in Shanghai's Pudong I experienced on March 30, 2022.
As you may see from these first-hand accounts by ordinary people, the virus has a different impact on each person, and there is a huge lack of consensus among the populace regarding the virus, ranging from hyper-sensitivity and extreme fear, to anxiety, to nonchalance and even to disrespect of rules. It takes time for the public to reach a consensus and for different organizations to work smoothly with each other in a certain type of epidemic prevention model. Imagine the country suddenly were to give up on zero-COVID policy, besides potentially skyrocketing death toll as mentioned by Chairman Rabbit, significant conflicts and chaos among the neighbors, towns, and cities would ensue due to this lack of consensus.
Ginger River believes this policy again is a vivid illustration of the particular nature of China's governance style, and a reminder of the "whole-process democracy". The situation on the ground is often complex and far from ideal. The decision makers do not make policies that are removed from reality. In fact, they actively listen to and take into account these very complex realities at grassroots level, and try to arrive at a decision that’s designed to maximize the greatest good and provide the best risk/reward outcome for the greatest number of people. And once a decision is made, the country mobilize any necessary resources to see it through with iron will.
A direct personal observation of a community anti-COVID volunteer in Shanghai
Recently, I have been a community volunteer and I have learned some things for your reference. Our community is in Puxi [areas west of the Huangpu River]. It is not very big, with half of them Shanghai locals and half of them non-Shanghai people, and half of them young people and half of them middle-aged people or above. Because I need to send antigen testing materials to each family, I need to knock on the doors and communicate with each family. Here are some of my observations:
Residents' perception of Omicron in the neighborhood where I delivered the antigen materials, according to their degree of cooperation, was: roughly 20% of them were extremely worried. They were more resistant to the community workers and volunteers knocking on the doors and asking us to put antigen materials at the door only. 50% were quite cautious [judging] from their words and actions, and the remaining 30% opened the door with a big smile and took the initiative to ask various questions.
At least 30% of residents had information asymmetry problems. Some young residents were even still asking questions as whether the closed-loop management would be over on April 5. Some older residents at the beginning did not foresee that the closed-loop management period could be extended, [so they faced] a lack of material reserves, yet they did not know how to use food delivery app, which is a real problem that needs the government's attention.
Omicron symptoms may be relatively light, but as I observe during my volunteer work, I am pretty sure this understanding has not been widely known by the residents. The online discussion [on the lightness of Omicron] in fact has not reached a wide audience. A spillover of cases will still produce panic. [So in this sense], the consensus in the community has absolutely not been reached, and I believe that the consensus in other [cities/provinces] and at national level is even more difficult to reach, because the previous publicity of the aftereffects of the COVID-19 has been quite serious.
Stay-at-home quarantine may be feasible for certain communities where there is a uniform level of civility. But is full consensus reached here? Not necessarily. As long as there is opposition from residents, it is difficult to operate in practice. After all, this virus has a different impact on each person, and many elderly people are not fully vaccinated, and basically every building has individuals that have extreme panic because of it. From the perspective of current legal framework, residents opposing [stay-at-home quarantine] are more justified.
I predict that in the next few days after citywide nucleic acid test were completed with the support of the whole nation, we will certainly see many COVID positive residents who requested to stay at home, instead of going to 方舱 Fangcang, the mass quarantine centers. This will be a huge test and a challenge for grassroots workers. [We need to think about] how to avoid conflict, actively resolve conflicts, adhere to the principles, and [we] need to have a work plan, and experienced cadres [on sufficiently high] levels to coordinate and solve the situation of non-cooperation.
The task for 居委会 neighborhood committees and other grassroots organizations is very challenging, but if their relationship with the 物业 property management team is good, and they can organize a team of volunteers, then they can have enough manpower. As long as the neighborhood committee gives the order, cooperation is guaranteed. From my perspective, the local committee in my community has run quite well. The situation has been smooth, with not many conflicts.
When organization of nucleic acid testing encountered problems due to non-cooperation from the residents, the neighborhood committee often believed there was lack of coercive means. This understanding is seriously problematic. If the non-cooperation of individuals led to damage to the public interest, then there is need to take measures in accordance with the law. I saw that this part was, in fact, quite vague in the previous public announcements. The good news is that today's 上海发布 Shanghai Publishes (official WeChat blog of Shanghai Municipal Government) has started to announce cases of public security punishment, which provides an important support for the front-line personnel.
On how to be a neither-overbearing-nor-servile volunteer, I found that some conflicts between volunteers and residents resulted from things like knocking too loud on the doors or over-agitated verbal communication. Volunteers need to pay attention to not working from a position of moral superiority, and need to pay attention to the basic requirements for the treatment of people. While for the residents, they need to understand that volunteers are also from diverse backgrounds, and they should not be too demanding and [please have more] mutual understanding.
The [anti-virus] protection of front-line workers is still lacking. For example, for the volunteers who go door-to-door to send antigen testing materials and the members of the property management team], it's often not feasible to for each of them to have 大白 Big White [nickname for full protective gear]. They sometimes only get 小蓝 Small Blue [normal protective gear]. So [front-line workers] with Big White were dispatched as the effective front-line forces. Besides, protection practice among volunteers is also sometimes inadequate, so we have to remind each other very often [about the knowledge of protection].
We need to maintain a positive attitude despite this crisis. We shouldn't procrastinate on our usual line of work. [In fact, it's an opportunity to] to accomplish some previously unfinished tasks. We should maintain a good daily routine, starting at 9:00 a.m. and finishing at 5:00 p.m. We can even maintain 仪式感 a sense of ritual. There is a British volunteer in our team, who always wears a suit and tie to work, before calmly changing to the Big White. When you come for nucleic acid testing you might consider learning from [him]. I believe we can return to normal life and work very soon!
The massive nucleic acid testing in Shanghai's Pudong I experienced on March 30, 2022
From the beginning of March, the epidemic has put Shanghai in a difficult situation.
On March 27, Shanghai announced that the city would carry out massive nucleic acid tests in Pudong and Puxi (divided by the Huangpu River) in turn beginning on March 28.
I am not a clinician but a researcher working at the medical research institute, and I also joined in the anti-COVID battle as requested by the hospital.
This month, I have been to the Shanghai Convention & Exhibition Center of International Sourcing, Shiquan Road community and other places to support the nucleic acid sampling work.
At 9:30 p.m. on March 29, I received a message saying that one of my colleagues on the original shift could not come out for the task because a positive case was found in [his/her] community, and I was required to be at the office at 4:15 a.m. the next day to [replace him/her] to participate in the second round of the massive nucleic acid testing in Pudong.
22:30, March 29
I checked the weather forecast and prepared the clothes for the next day, the rechargeable batteries, the wet wipes, chocolate and other foods to replenish my energy if necessary.
After washing up, I lay down in bed and set three alarms for 3:30 a.m., and I repeatedly checked that the alarm volume was set to maximum to preventing me from getting up late.
1:30, March 30
I didn't know why, but I was worried that I wouldn't be able to hear the alarms, and even more worried that the epidemic in Pudong would be too serious, and I was not sleepy at all. I knew in my heart that I needed sleep, but couldn't get it.
3:30, March 30
Three alarm clocks went off at the same time, and I was woken up, only to realize that, somehow, I had fallen asleep.
4:00, March 30
I washed up and went to the office to meet my colleague. We got our breakfast, and we all ate in the cold while signing in and grouping up.
At the main entrance of our hospital, we took roll call and received breakfast
4:15, March 30
The colleague in charge of our sampling work in Pudong repeatedly emphasized that the corresponding community in Pudong required us to be at the staging area in Yangsi by 5:00 a.m.
So we left the office at 4:15 a.m. sharp and drove all the way to Pudong.
The empty Lupu Bridge at 4:00 a.m.
Although I have lived in Shanghai for ten years, I am not familiar with Pudong. I have always lived in Puxi in these ten years, and my impression of Pudong and Puxi are like two cities.
In my mind, Puxi has a lot of old houses and small roads full of phoenix trees, while Pudong is full of tall buildings, like a new city.
In the two years after the epidemic outbreak, I only went to Lujiazui a few times, and I came back [to Puxi] after having dinner with my buddies.
I never thought that I would be wearing protective gear when I went to Pudong again.
4:50, March 30
We arrived on time at the staging area on West Yangsi Road, where support staff from several other hospitals were arriving one after another.
But there was no community worker in sight.
Medical staff from other hospitals arriving one after another
The community worker who communicated with us repeatedly emphasized that we should be at the staging area by 5:00, but he was late in showing up.
5:45, March 30
We kept sitting on the bus, waiting for the community worker to come to meet with us, but an hour passed and he did not show up.
One of my colleagues wanted to go to the bathroom and the team leader advised him to hold back because the team leader didn't know when the community workers would show up, and was afraid that the team wouldn't be able to found him at once [when the community worker] showed up and then he would fall behind.
Day broke, and at 5:30 a.m. I saw some people in green vests and thought they were community workers, but was told that they were not.
So, once again, we were stuck in an endless wait.
By now, it was already dawn.
6:10, March 30
Finally, the community workers A and B, who we were supposed to meet with us, arrived, and after meeting with them, we took roll again and left for our respective spots.
I wanted to ask A and B why they told us to be at Yangsi by 5:00 a.m., while they came at 6:00 a.m.?
In order to fulfill their request to arrive on time, many colleagues did not go home [last night] and slept in the office, but seeing the community workers’ wrinkled clothes and deep dark circles round their eyes, I bit the words back.
6:50, March 30
Led by the community staff, we, 24 groups, all arrived at our spots and started sampling.
I was assigned to spot No. 41, responsible for the sampling work of Ruikangyuan in Sanlin area.
My partner and I were responsible for the sampling work of buildings No.6 to No. 9, which has about 1500 people.
According to the request of the neighborhood committee, we needed to sample the people in each building separately. The advantage of doing this is that if there is a positive sample in the follow-up test, it is easy for them to lock the building quickly and implement follow-up management quickly.
So we decided to sample in order, starting with building No.6.
In order to improve efficiency, my partner and I were responsible for sampling, and the community volunteers were responsible for scanning the code for the residents with the palm machine [for people to digitally registering for the tests].
We soon found that the residents of this neighborhood had some surprising habits.
Some residents did not follow orders and did as they pleased. One resident was walking his corgi and wandering around. The staff told him that he could not walk around during the closed-loop management period, let alone smoke or walk his dog at will, and he was full of disdain, smoking while running around with his puppy.
I could not stand it and warned him not to smoke in the neighborhood and walk the dog around. I suggested him go home immediately after the test.
He said to me with an innocent face, "Our dog can not poop without coming out for running."
Some residents were so free and easy, without sense of time. In order to cooperate with the neighborhood committee's work, we sampled according to the sequence of the building, and made plans about the sampling time for each building. But some residents were so free and easy. Rather than coming at the time we set to test, they decided that as long as we were still in their neighborhood, we would not leave them behind.
[Behavior] of such people greatly increased the difficulty of our work. In order to avoid contamination, the centrifuge tube for sampling should be closed in a timely manner after sampling, and can not be repeatedly opened. The palm machine for scanning code can not add or reduce the number of people at will after setting the number of testings. Those who do not follow the prescribed time point to come for testing brought a lot of trouble to our statistical work.
Some people were just dark inside and hostile to the world. One resident was determined not to do the nucleic acid test. We went to his door and persuaded him repeatedly to do the test and failed.
His reason was that he was afraid we would take advantage of the opportunity to obtain his DNA information.
12:00, March 30
After several hours of struggle, we finally finished collecting samples from the residents of Building No. 6 and Building No. 7.
For the remaining two buildings, we planned to do the sampling work in the afternoon.
The community workers joined us for lunch at the community activity center.
[The lunch] included one kind of meat, one kind of vegetable, and a small portion of rice. Probably because I had breakfast at 4:00 in the morning, I felt I was not full. I wondered if those male colleagues were full?
Being afraid of wanting to go to the wash room in the afternoon [editor's note: it is not easy to go to the wash room with the protective gear], so although I felt very thirsty, I only took a few sips of water at noon.
During lunch, the community worker who had communicated with us in the morning told me that they worked with such high intensity every day, but they didn't even have [enough] protective gear.
I sighed in my heart. Fortunately I bit my words back in the morning and did not quarrel with him. It was not easy for him as well.
When I went to the wash room after lunch, I found that the activity center of this community has a small garden that they planted it by hand.
I thought to myself, how nice it would be if it was an ordinary day and I could sit in the garden, get some sunshine and enjoy the wind!
The garden in the neighborhood
13:00, March 30
After lunch and a short break, we started sampling again.
We summed up our experience of the work in the morning and worked more smoothly with the community staff this time.
The number of residents in Building No. 8 was much larger than the other buildings, but it only took an hour and a half to finish the sampling work.
14:30, March 30
Four colleagues from other sports came to support us after finishing their own work.
We planned to work together and finish collecting all the samples from residents of Building No. 9 in one go.
15:00, March 30
We found that the residents of Building No. 9 were very procrastinating and did not follow the orders of the neighborhood committee, always coming down freely and randomly.
At one time, there were dozens of people in a crowd, and then there was no one.
I counted the number of people who had been sampled and found that there were still about 100 residents who had not been sampled, so I asked the community staff to inform the residents that they had to come down at 15:30 to take the nucleic acid test, and we were set to retreat at 15:30.
At the same time, my partner and I started to check the buildings door-to-door to sample the vulnerable groups registered in the community, those who were old, weak, ill or disabled and could not go downstairs.
While we checked the building, we found many more problems.
1. Most of the registered people who need us to go to their doors to do the sampling were not unable to go downstairs, but did not want to go downstairs.
There were about 13 households which registered in the neighborhood committee as requiring door-to-door sampling service. After we sampled at their doors, we found that only three elderly people were really mobility impaired, the rest were "alive and kicking".
2. Many households with one elderly person registered as needing door-to-door sampling, the whole family of which did not go downstairs.
When we went to the doors of several households that registered with the elderly needing door-to-door sampling, [we found] that the whole family did not take the test, all waiting for us to do the door-to-door sampling.
I asked them why they did not go downstairs when they were able to go downstairs, they justifiably told me: Anyway, you have to come to our home. Sampling one is taking sample; Sampling a family is also taking sample.
They had no respect for the work of medical staff and cannot understand how difficult it is for the staff to carry supplies with them and to sterilize the hands.
3.The work of community workers is tedious and difficult
Many elderly people did not have cell phones and could not use the app 健康云 Jiankangyun, meaning "health cloud", so they relied on community workers to help them.
But when we sampled them at home, they didn't thank the community workers at all. Instead they blamed and complained, as they thought these were things others should do for them.
It [seemed to be] a normal thing to them for community workers to do their job well, and they would tell off you if you didn't do your job well.
16:15, March 30
After a dozen rounds of dealing with residents who sampled at the door, we finally finished the checking of the building and returned to the first floor.
At this point, the two groups of colleagues who stayed behind told us that not a single resident had come to take the nucleic acid test in the past 10 minutes, and it was also long after our previously notified end time of 15:30.
So, we told the community staff to notify the residents again: if no one came, we would end the sampling.
After 10 minutes of silence, we started to take off our protective gear and prepared to end the sampling.
Just halfway through taking off our gear, a dozen people suddenly rushed down and asked us to sample them.
I clearly told them that they had been repeatedly informed at least three times that we had now changed our clothes and that sampling was over for the day.
Their voices got louder and louder, saying that no one had informed them, and they had been waiting at home all day and did not know that the test was over.
Their posture indicated that a fight could start at any time.
We argued for about 15 minutes, and I decided not to reason with them when I saw that it did not mean that much to argue with them.
My colleague and I took stock of the supplies and prepared to leave the neighborhood with the more than 1,400 samples collected today for the return trip.
The residents who failed to take the nucleic acid test on time saw us leave with our stuff, and they were not happy about it, so they grabbed the community workers and started another round of arguments.
And so we left the neighborhood, amidst the scolding of a group of residents who had failed to get their nucleic acid tests done on time.
16:40, March 30
We had been waiting for a car to pick us up at the entrance of the neighborhood, but we did not see it, so we decided to just stop a police car and have the police take us to the West Yangsi Road [editor's note: In the closed-loop management, few types of cars were allowed on the street].
Luckily, we soon stopped a car and the police kindly agreed to take us to West Yangsi Road after we explained the situation.
This was the first time I rode in a police car without handcuffs.
17:00, March 30
At our hospital bus, I ran into our dean who came to pick us up and explained to her the conflict we had with the residents in the community so she would be clear on the circumstances of the incident.
After listening to our story, she told me, "It's okay. If they go to the health commission to complain, I know what's going on."
18:00, March 30
We returned to our hospital and ended the day's battle.
This day's experience gave me a deep appreciation of how difficult the job of the front-line anti-COVID workers is.
Disclaimer: Analysis contained in this newsletter reflects the personal views of Ginger River, not those of Xinhua.
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