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Locked-in and hungry, Shanghai residents can't complain online

Beijing struggles to contain both misinformation and inconvenient dissent amid mass lockdowns

The 25-million-plus residents of the Chinese city of Shanghai are being warned not to spread rumors online or to complain about conditions during ongoing and strict COVID-19 lockdowns imposed since March 28.

The Shanghai office of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) warned citizens against spreading misinformation in an announcement on Friday after rumors started appearing on WeChat that armed police would take over the city, and bulk communal buying of food would be outlawed. Residents were not allowed out of their homes, not even for essential shopping: they need to have supplies delivered.

By April 8, Beijing seemingly had some of its messaging problems solved. Hashtags on WeChat discussing food shortages, such as "scrambling to secure food in Shanghai" (#上海抢菜#) and "anxieties over food supplies in Shanghai," (#上海疫情下的抢菜焦虑#) were allegedly blocked.

The hashtags were trending as citizens experienced food shortages, despite the government delivering food boxes to official and registered residents.

Concerns were voiced over the plight of unofficial residents, the elderly, and large households. Many of the people experiencing lockdown spent a great deal of time searching for food on online apps. But availability sometimes disappeared within moments, increasing anxiety over food security.

"In other words, the basic livelihood of the people of Shanghai is now in great trouble, and the vast majority of the people of Shanghai spend their entire lives every day looking for channels to grab food," wrote one Shanghai resident who described the scenario in a Google doc.

"Young people are better off, they can go through various software to toss, but many elderly people can't even play with their cell phones, so it's impossible to expect them to grab food online. It is a reality that some people are doing very well under the epidemic, while others are not doing well and are having problems with basic livelihood security," the individual added before confirming they also could not search the #ShanghaiEpidemic topic on Weibo.

The individual described the scenario as "chilling."

On Sunday April 10, the CAC posted a handy visual display of rumors it finds offensive. Some are lockdown related, others not.

Shanghai is not the only city given a stern warning. In Beijing, a sign sits atop a street warning citizens about the dangers lurking on the internet.

More bizarre stories have emerged from the lockdown, including robodogs monitoring streets, viral (and it has to be said, racist) threats from neighbors to eat one another (they were attempting to make a joke … The Reg hopes), pet murders, viral songs about clam dishes, and viral recipe suggestions based on whatever was found in in the government-issued vegetable box that day.

There were also videos doing the rounds on social media of people screaming and yelling from their Shanghai apartment windows in frustration at the lockdown.

Shanghai City official Gu Honghui said residents in areas with no positive cases during a two-week stretch may soon engage in "appropriate" activity within their neighborhood. He also said Shanghai would make "dynamic" adjustments to the new system and greater efforts to minimize the impact of restrictions.

On Friday April 8, state-sponsored media Xinhua said there had been a total of 131,524 positive COVID cases in the city, of which only one was severe. There have allegedly been no deaths. ®

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