Four days into a coronavirus lockdown in her Shanghai neighborhood, Ding Tingting began to worry about the elderly man who lived alone in the apartment below her. She knocked on his door and found that his food supply was running low and he didn’t know how to go online to buy more.
Ms. Ding helped him buy food, but also thought of the many elderly people who lived alone in his neighborhood. Using the Chinese messaging app WeChat, she and her friends created groups to connect people in need with nearby volunteers who could bring them food and medicine. When a woman’s stepfather suddenly passed out, the volunteer network located a neighbor with a blood pressure monitor and ensured it was delivered to him quickly.
“Life cannot be put on hold because of the lockdown,” said 25-year-old art curator Ms. Ding.
In its tireless efforts to eradicate the virus, China has relied on hundreds of thousands of low-level party officials in neighborhood committees to organize mass testing and coordinate transportation to hospitals and health facilities. isolation. Officials handed out special passes for the sick to seek out medicine and other necessities during the lockdown.
But the recent outbreak in Shanghai has overwhelmed the city’s 50,000 neighborhood officials, leaving residents struggling to get food, medical care and even pet care. Angry and frustrated, some have taken matters into their own hands, volunteering to help those in need when the Chinese Communist Party has been unable or unwilling, testing the Party’s legitimacy in times of crisis.
“An affirmation of the Chinese Communist Party is that only the Communist Party can provide basic order and livelihood to every person in China,” said Victor Shih, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego. For Shanghai residents now trying to get food and other basics, “their confidence in these claims has likely been weakened,” he said.
In Shanghai, where one in three people are over 60, residents are particularly concerned that the elderly will be left behind. Many don’t use smartphones and aren’t on WeChat or one of the dozens of Chinese online shopping apps that make modern life easier. Unable to leave their homes, they were cut off from daily life.
“I really see the struggle of some older people,” said Danli Zhou, who is part of an ad hoc group of volunteers in his upscale downtown neighborhood. The group takes shifts to bring deliveries from the lobby to residents’ doorsteps.
During one of his shifts, Mr. Zhou said he knocked on the door of an elderly man who seemed to have difficulty speaking. He asked to see the man’s phone and got contact details for his daughter living in another part of town. Mr. Zhou connected the girl with several WeChat groups in the building, where neighbors were buying food and arranging deliveries.
“There are many elderly people living alone in the building,” Zhou said. “By focusing on group buying, it even took me a while to figure out the system.
Among Shanghai’s tens of thousands of new volunteers, a sense of community has grown in a sprawling metropolis with more people than any other city in China, and where most are accustomed to anonymity. Many said that before the epidemic, they knew their colleagues better than their neighbors.
Yvonne Mao, a 31-year-old project manager at a tech company in Shanghai, had never bothered to get to know her neighbors before the Omicron variant started spreading in her city. After a person tested positive for the virus in her compound, she panicked and called for help by filling out a form she found online devoted to connecting people with volunteers in every district of Shanghai.
Ms. Mao soon received a call from a middle-aged volunteer who lived above her in her apartment building, who said he wanted to check on her. After this experience, she signed up to help distribute food and other necessities to other neighbours.
“I feel a sense of unity and have become closer to my neighbors,” Ms. Mao said.
Volunteers have also become a vital resource for the hundreds of thousands of people shipped to isolation centers after testing positive, suddenly forced out of their daily lives with little preparation.
When a video of a corgi being beaten by health workers in white jumpsuits went viral, animal rights volunteers sprang into action. The owner let the dog out onto the streets after he was unable to find anyone to care for the animal before being sent to a quarantine facility, according to state media. A manager later admitted the beating was a mistake, but many pet owners were furious.
Volunteers circulated online forms for residents to register for pet care in city neighborhoods. These groups have helped transfer pets to temporary homes or foster care when owners have tested positive and provided advice on how to walk dogs on a balcony.
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Yet even these small acts of kindness have met with some opposition from neighborhood officials.
Akiko Li, a volunteer with an animal rights group, helped find a home for a white-haired, blue-eyed cat named Guaiguai when her owner contacted her in a panic. Ms. Li located a high school student who lived in the same residential complex as Guaiguai’s owner and who could drive to the apartment to retrieve the cat.
“We encountered a lot of resistance throughout this process,” said Ms. Li, 28. “We weren’t allowed to enter the neighborhood because it had been strictly cordoned off.
In Shanghai’s northern suburb of Baoshan, 18-year-old high school student Hura Lin took in a cat named Drumstick after its owner tested positive for the virus. It was the least she could do, Ms. Lin said. “I don’t expect to be able to solve the problem; I just want to help as much as possible.
Some people, rather than volunteering, are simply offering informal ways to ease the daily stresses of life in lockdown in Shanghai, by gathering useful information and guides online, preparing refreshments for exhausted neighbors or making videos to boost morale.
In a neighborhood near Ms. Mao’s home, another volunteer, Perla Shi, makes free coffee every morning for her neighbors from her small kitchen. She takes orders daily and delivers them in take-out cups she was able to purchase from a nearby convenience store.
She was pushed to do something after several acts of kindness from her neighbours: one of them offered to look after her short-legged cat Sixi if Ms Shi, 35, tested positive. Another put fresh homemade bread outside her door. A third dropped off an entire case of yogurt.
“Everyone was short on resources, but they still fed me from time to time,” Ms. Shi said. “I thought, my God, I have to do something for them too.”