Cooped Up on a Day Like This
It’s been just over two years since my first experience of lockdown here in Shanghai. It occurred shortly after I’d arrived in the city and ensured that I started my new job from the comfort of my own sofa.
I jest about comfort; the situation was far from ideal. It was awkward starting a new job without meeting any of my colleagues and lacking the face-to-face guidance you hope for when starting in a new position.
This time around, I’m two years in and very much settled. We’ve been working from home for a few weeks now, and apart from the inconvenience of trying to work on a laptop that, while not quite on its last legs, is quickly running out of spares, it’s not really made much difference.
I do miss seeing everyone face to face in the office. We’ve cultivated a nice atmosphere within the team and now that I’ve resigned myself to being old and sad, work serves as my main source of social interaction. On the plus side, I really don’t miss commuting.
Lockdown for us started last Friday. I read about it on the BBC before anyone from the Residents Committee notified us (which, considering how little the BBC manages to get right about China, is impressive). The article made it sound like a bigger deal than it is. Or at least that’s how it felt at the time.
It was supposed to last for five days. Less than a week stuck in our own homes, hardly the end of the world. Nevertheless, it was annoying that the government chose to schedule their mass testing exercise to cover the duration of Qingming Festival; we get a three day weekend and have to spend the whole thing inside.
Qingming, or Tomb-Sweeping Day, isn’t a holiday the two of us pay much attention to. Neither me nor the Mrs have any tombs to sweep — in this part of the world at least — and the holiday is too short to go adventuring. However, it is traditionally a festival where people get outside, to climb a hill or go for a long walk, and that’s something I’m very much in favour of.
To say Shanghai is as flat as a pancake would be to grossly understate the undulations of the average pancake, so hill-climbing is certainly out of the question. But there are many nice parks and riverside walkways in the city that would have afforded a nice springtime stroll in the sun.
We’ve had glorious weather these last few days. After a cold, wet, and miserable March, the gray haze has cleared from the sky and the sun has decided to reaffirm its existence — just in time to taunt us through the windows of the flat we cannot leave. The last few days have been sunny and cool, with a light breeze, the perfect weather for running.
With all that said, a five day break wouldn’t have been the end of the world. Alas, it’s currently looking like it may stretch on for a while longer than that. The government have announced, apparently, that the lockdown has been extended. We’ve only seen rumours — no one’s officially notified us, nor anyone we’ve spoken to, neither work nor the Residents Committee — but the white tape is still up over the community entrance and no one is out on the streets.
This whole things feels very much like a bout of spur-of-the-moment chaos. Most of the city have been working from home for weeks, so contact is already kept to a minimum. The city also went through systematic, albeit not simultaneous testing a week or so before this lockdown began.
We were told the lockdown was for testing purposes, which, if the whole city is now being tested at once, makes me wonder what the earlier round of staggered testing that everyone had to go through was for. As no one from our area tested positive that first time, and no one’s tested positive this time either, I’m also not sure what extending the lockdown by a few days is supposed to achieve.
The rumour is that we’ll be out on the eighth, but considering no one’s announcing anything until the last minute and there doesn’t seem to have been any clear plan from the start, I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes on for a while yet. Especially as the government seems to still believe that a zero-tolerance policy of shutting out covid entirely is a viable long-term option. Maybe they’re right, but I can’t help thinking they’re not.