Tensions between Shanghai residents and Chinese Covid law enforcement are on the rise again, amid a fresh push to end infections outside quarantine zones to meet President Xi’s demand Jinping to achieve “dynamic zero-Covid”.
Videos shared on Chinese social media platforms showed suspected Covid-positive patients being forcibly quarantined at central facilities. In some neighborhoods, a single positive case could cause residents of the entire building to be sent to quarantine.
Censors took down many of these videos, but determined locals continued to post them. Past speeches by senior officials and jurists have resurfaced in which they talk about the importance of the rule of law. These speeches were shared and reposted on social media to express their disapproval of government policy.
Last week, Xi reiterated that his government had no intention of backing away from the controversial zero Covid pledge, in a major address to the country’s top officials. He urged officials to “relentlessly adhere to the overall policy of dynamic zero-Covid” and cautioned against criticizing or questioning the policy.
‘There is no why’
Over the weekend, residents in at least four of Shanghai’s 16 districts said they received notices telling them they could no longer receive food deliveries or leave their homes, prompting numerous complaints on social networks.
“The virus itself is no longer scary, but the way the government has implemented the policy has become the scariest thing,” said a Shanghai resident, who wished to remain anonymous. “We thought the lockdown might be eased this month, but now there’s no end in sight.”
Over the past few days, a number of videos shared on social media have shown health officials – also known as Dàbái, or “Big Whites” because of their white hazmat suits – entering residents’ homes and sprayed disinfectants everywhere. This practice has outraged many residents, who have questioned its legality. Others asked if such a measure had a scientific basis.
In a viral video, law enforcement officers in hazmat suits ordered residents quarantined after a neighbor tested positive. “It’s not that you can do whatever you want – unless you’re in America. This is China,” one of the officers was heard saying. “Stop asking me why, there is no why. We must follow national guidelines. The Guardian does not know the identities of the residents and whether they were ultimately taken away.
Not all Shanghai residents were compliant. In a separate video, a local resident addressed government health workers to abide by Chinese law. The middle-aged man, dressed in a red protective suit with a face mask and face shield, stressed that there was always a limit to the power to which government officials are entitled and that the rights of citizens should not be abused.
“Let me tell you,” the man said, “you can only use your power with the permission of the law…You must tell me what elements of the law of our country have allowed you to exercise your public power today.” today? …therefore you cannot impose strict isolation [upon us].”
It is not the first time that the government’s zero-Covid enforcement has caused tension in Shanghai, home to 25 million people and a key financial hub in Asia. In April, residents of Pudong – the eastern part of the city – clashed with police in hazmat suits who were forcing them to surrender their homes to become coronavirus quarantine facilities.
Worried about the excesses of Covid prevention, lawyers have expressed their concerns. On Sunday, a lengthy appeal letter urging the government to respect China’s constitution was widely circulated on social media. Censors repeatedly took down the article, but many determined residents continued to publish it.
The letter’s lead author, Professor Tong Zhiwei of the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, said the restrictions and how authorities enforced them could lead to “some kind of legal catastrophe “.
“Preventing the pandemic must be balanced with ensuring people’s rights and freedoms,” Tong wrote. “Governments and local officials must stick to the constitution and laws, and cannot destroy the rule of law for convenience.”
Guobin Yang, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Wuhan Lockdown, said: “Like what we saw in Wuhan in 2020 when the virus first emerged, citizens are protesting the brutal enforcement containment measures by the government. Shanghai has taken this dynamic to a new level, but we still don’t know how the government will react in the end.
Shanghai is in its sixth week of confinement. The number of cases has declined, according to local health authorities. On Monday, Shanghai reported 322 locally transmitted Covid cases, 3,625 asymptomatic local infections and 11 deaths in the past 24 hours. It was a steady decline in new cases for the 10th day in a row.
It’s not just Shanghai that has been subject to one form or another of restrictions. In Beijing, where the number of daily cases is far lower than Shanghai at this stage of its epidemic, the government has asked residents to work from home. Dozens of bus lines and nearly 15% of the Chinese capital’s vast metro system have been suspended.