May 18, 2022

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Explainer: How China is using metal barriers to fight COVID

Explainer: How China is using metal barriers to fight COVID

Taipei, Taiwan (AP) – Several districts in Shanghai have set up metal barriers Last weekend as part of the city’s battle against the COVID-19 outbreak, in a move that sparked protests and angered some residents.

Workers dressed in head-to-toe white protective clothing have erected wire mesh and sheet metal fences to seal off roads, residential communities and even the entrances to some apartment buildings. The majority of the city’s 25 million residents have already been prevented from leaving their homes during a month-long lockdown, although some neighborhoods have since opened.

Barriers are posted to ensure movement is controlled and often leave a small entrance that can be easily guarded.

Is the use of metal fences or barriers new?

Barriers are new to Shanghai, but have been deployed throughout the epidemic to other cities across China. For example, in early 2020, some neighborhood committees – the lowest levels of local government – erected metal sheets and fences in parts of Beijing to control home access points. Wuhan, where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in December 2019, has also erected metal barriers throughout the city.

How they are deployed varies. Sometimes the government erects a fence around entire neighborhood blocks, leaving only one or two entrances. In other cases, they build fences in front of individual apartment complexes.

The fence was widely deployed in border areas as well, including Suifenhe, a city in the northeast on the border with Russia. Metal barriers there block entire streets.

Why did people demonstrate in Shanghai?

Shanghai has not erected metal barriers on a large scale during the past two years of the epidemic, and it prides itself on more targeted measures that do not rely on lockdowns. That changed in the most recent outbreak, which was driven by the highly transmissible omicron BA.2 variant. Central authorities imposed a lockdown on the entire city, preventing people from putting “one foot out the door,” according to a widely promoted slogan.

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Many Shanghai residents were upset about the barriers blocking the entrances to their apartment buildings and some angry citizens circulated videos online showing the protests. In one of the videos verified by the Associated Press, residents who left a building in Shanghai’s Xuhui district broke down a grating barrier at the front entrance and went angrily to look for the security guard believed to be responsible for his situation.

Shanghai uses a tiered system in which neighborhoods are divided into three categories based on transmission risk. Those in the first category face the most stringent COVID-19 controls and are the main target of the barriers.

However, some neighborhood officials in Shanghai have put up barriers in areas that are not part of the strictest categories. A resident called the police to protest the road closures near his apartment, saying his residence was not Class A. He and two other residents of his building complex tried to stop the workers from erecting metal barriers, but a neighborhood committee worker stopped them. The police officer told the residents that they had no right to leave the apartment, according to the man’s account, which he posted on WeChat.

“This deep and profound feeling of helplessness. Who can tell me: Is there any hope for this place?” he wrote. He refused to give his name.

Will it be disposed of?

In some cases, residents succeeded in their protests.

In an apartment complex in Shanghai’s Putuo District, residents protested vigorously after the housing commission placed a U-shaped lock on the building’s door on April 16.

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“It was very abrupt, without any notice, and it wasn’t just the building. Every place below was sealed off. I blocked any escape route,” said a Shanghai resident who asked to be identified only by her last name, Zhang. accident or fire, everyone is sure to die.”

Residents of the building called the police as well as the city’s hotline. The residential commission relented and placed tape on the door instead, but warned residents that damaging the tape would lead to legal consequences, according to a notice the commission sent to residents and Zhang showed to the AP.

In Beijing, many barriers have been removed after the city has gone through without a major outbreak for the past two years. Now, however, apartment complexes with positive cases are again confined.

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Associated Press researcher Chen Si contributed to this report from Shanghai.