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China COVID Lockdown: Zero-COVID = Zero Food

I was shocked to read a first-hand account of life in urban China these days. It was a word picture of what’s going on with latest draconian anti-COVID lockdowns. Seems the most serious issues surround the almost total unavailability of food…

Jennifer Paks potato and carrots - © 2022 J. PakPak’s carrots and potato. A major stroke of good fortune amid the
persistent food shortages in Shanghai and other parts of China…

Correspondent Jennifer Pak has written on a wide variety of food economy and nutrition issues for The Guardian in the past few years. Now, she’s caught in the middle of the latest draconian anti-COVID lockdowns affecting millions in large Chinese urban centres.

Skeletal coverage in the West

Coverage here in the West of the Chinese situation has been skeletal at best. It appears that editors in North America and Europe would rather ignore the potential starvation of millions in Asia than pass up even one little smarmy political story.

Nevertheless, we do keep getting daily updates via the internet, about the total travel ban in China. It’s meant to curb the spread of the latest COVID variants and other serious viruses that have arisen this fall. And ‘total’ means total. Chinese officials have been reported sealing people inside their apartment buildings, not allowing anyone or anything in or out.

So how are these people getting the necessities of life? Apparently, they’re not.

Pack relates her own slightly less harsh realty

Journalist Pak does maintain balance and perspective in her piece, admitting the scene above is not the general norm. Most Chinese urban dwellers are respecting curfews and trying to play ball with what remains of a ravaged food distribution system. They, at least, are being allowed outside their homes for a few hours every day. For them life means long lineups, frustrating experiences with online ordering apps, government handouts, bulk-buying groups, bartering and underground channels.

Pak describes a typical ‘good day’ on the hunt for food in Shanghai like this: “On day 32 of Shanghai’s lockdown this year, I somehow managed to buy fruit in bulk. I shared some grapes and kiwis with a friend. She insisted I take something in exchange from her dwindling food stash. So I grabbed a potato that had sprouted and two slightly wrinkled carrots. What a relief.”

Such an existence is unimaginable in my experience, or even my imagination. Which doesn’t mean that I doubt, for a moment, Pak’s story. I just don’t know what I’d do in her position.

Strategy and tactics to the fore

“Meal decisions were generally dictated by what would go bad next. But planning a dish took patience.” Pak relates. “When a friend said that a butcher near her had reopened, I bought a small portion of beef shank and beef brisket. I didn’t know when I’d next see meat so I made it into a stew. I put the meat in the freezer until I could source spices and stock cubes, which took another two weeks.”

Situation bubbles over

Pak gets the final word from China: “Fire killed dozens when they couldn’t escape a sealed building in the city of Urumqi, in Xinjiang province. Residents flooded into the streets initially to hold vigils for the fire victims. But this protest morphed into anger against the Chinese government and its zero-COVID approach. Protests broke out across the country, with many affected cities responding by easing some restrictions. Still, this does not address the government’s enormous control over the most basic decisions in daily life in the name of COVID prevention, including when and if people could fill their bellies.”

My take

I have just one comment: As my dad used to say, when cash was thin: “Cool your jets, kid. No matter how bad things look, you won’t have to look far to find  somebody worse off than you are…”

~ Maggie J.