By Simone McCarthy, CNN
Scuffles in the produce section, aisles packed with panicked shoppers and shelves stripped bare of food.
Videos posted to social media Sunday show chaotic scenes erupting in Shanghai after authorities announced part of the city would enter a large-scale lockdown to stop the spread of Covid-19.
The two-phase lockdown — which saw the eastern half of the city close at 5 a.m. Monday for four days of mass-testing, with the western half to follow on Friday — comes as Shanghai emerged as the new epicenter of China’s worst outbreak of Covid-19 in two years, reporting a record 3,500 cases on Sunday.
It’s the first time such stringent measures have been rolled out in the city of 25 million, the country’s financial heart and its most cosmopolitan and progressive urban center, as the ruling Communist Party pursues a “zero-Covid” policy to stamp out all infections.
Shanghai authorities had previously insisted the city would not enter a lockdown, going so far as to investigate individuals for “fabricating information” that suggested otherwise.
Instead, authorities deployed a “slice-and-grid” system that closed housing complexes on a rolling basis while residents were tested. But on Sunday the local government took that a step further and announced the east-west lockdown, testing the patience of residents who had already endured smaller-scale lockdowns. Some asked why city didn’t just take broader measures earlier.
“A full city lockdown would’ve saved a lot of time and infections…(including) the psychological trauma of being in a Covid ward,” one resident in the eastern Pudong district surnamed Li told CNN.
The switch also dashed hopes that Shanghai’s method would provide a less disruptive model for China’s “zero-Covid” policy, at a time when Beijing has called on local leaders to minimize disruptions to the economy and daily life.
But doing that while being held accountable for any virus spread under “zero-Covid” was like being asked to achieve “conflicting goals,” according to Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
“Ultimately the local government officials have no choice but to do this heavy-handed approach in order to get things done in these circumstances,” he said.
Chinese authorities made the announcement in a statement just after 8 p.m. Sunday night — assuring residents that local-level officials would ensure there were enough supplies to last them through the testing period.
But people panicked anyway, crowding into markets that extended their opening hours to cope with the demand.
One social media user on the popular Twitter-like platform Weibo said attempting to buy produce was like fighting a “losing battle,” and likened the experience to the turmoil of the 1960s when food was scarce.
Another, whose residential block was already subject to localized restrictions when the wider lockdown began, complained they would be unable to restock and questioned the government’s ability to provide the city with enough food.
In the past, other Chinese cities have faced issues supporting residents as local authorities grappled with the logistics of lockdown. In Xi’an late last year residents were left without food while under a strict citywide lockdown — one symptom of a disastrous lack of planning that shocked the country at the time.
When asked about concerns of food shortages during lockdown, Gu Jun, director of Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce said at a press conference Monday that the city is “strengthening the organization of supply sources.”
Though small by international standards, Shanghai’s rising case numbers have placed additional strain on the city’s health care system.
Like other cities in China, Shanghai sends all those who test positive into hospitals or quarantine centers, not allowing any home quarantine, irrespective of the severity of symptoms.
The city has already converted six hospitals, two indoor stadiums and one exhibition center into government quarantine centers, according to Shanghai health officials.
But as cases rise, concerns have been raised about the living conditions within these facilities.
“Hundreds of people living together, in the cold and bad conditions. Men and women are quarantined together without any privacy. We use public toilet and need to scramble for food. Does the quarantine really help us?” read one post on social media by a user who said they were at a converted expo center.
Another, who was taken to a hospital, said they experienced a “terrifying night” after receiving their diagnosis, sleeping on the floor in an “airtight room.”
“No one could tell us where or when they would be taken, only more and more people were brought in to be quarantined together,” the user wrote.
Another user expressed surprise that this could be happening in one of the country’s most advanced cities.
“This is the anti-epidemic policy of Shanghai: locking people up first and then think what to do next. No one gave us medicine, no doctors. Patients are sitting on the ground shivering,” the user wrote. “Is this the Shanghai that the people used to rely on?”
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CNN’s Beijing bureau contributed to this report