Almost everyday people ask me what it’s like in Shanghai right now. Compared to the rest of the world, the pandemic is more or less under control here for now. (I say “for now” because who knows what will happen later). In spite of the somewhat delayed reaction at the initial onset of the pandemic, once the central government realized what they were really dealing with, the reaction was swift and pretty thorough. Starting at the end of January, pretty much all businesses were gradually shut down. Only grocery stores, convenience stores and a handful of restaurants were open. Gyms were closed down, schools, shopping malls, etc were all closed. Shanghai was a bit like a ghost town. Wearing a mask everywhere, especially upon entering public spaces was a requirement and someone would also be checking temperatures. Housing communities weren’t allowing non-residents in, so visiting friends was pretty much not going to happen as there was literally no where to meet up unless you wanted to just hang out on the sidewalk somewhere. Initially, it seemed like a bit of an over-reaction. I speculated that it was an over the top reaction meant to show the world that it wasn’t the same China who tried to cover up the SARS outbreak back in 2003. Maybe that was part of it, but looking at where we are now compared to the rest of the world, I’m grateful for the strict enforcement that occurred. With only very rare exceptions, people were cooperative with the measures taken, even though it was super annoying and inconvenient.
Now that we’re in early May, life in Shanghai is mostly back to normal. The major exceptions being that not all schools are open, people are still wearing masks, temperatures still checked, and there’s still a lot of fear. Of course, the travel ban blocking foreigners from entering China is still in place and there’s no official information pertaining to when that might be lifted. Overall, even though we can go to bars, restaurants and the gym, there’s still definitely a feeling of uncertainty and unpredictability hanging over everything. People don’t feel safe committing to any long term planning, such as making travel plans or even important decisions about college, for example. For the foreigners in Shanghai, it feels maybe even more unstable because we know that if we leave the country for any reason, we won’t be allowed to return until who knows when. The economic repercussions of the pandemic are also pretty obvious. Lots of businesses didn’t make it through the lockdown period. There are empty storefronts everywhere. Many people lost their jobs and many have taken massive pay cuts (this is legal, btw) to help their companies survive.
All of that said, compared to the rest of the world, I think Shanghai returned to (mostly) normal life much faster than most places will because of how strict the government was in implementing containment measures, but also because the people were so willing to comply for the greater good! If people don’t stay home, then this pandemic will last much longer than is really necessary. So stay home and stay safe!