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Stories of desperation are emerging in Shanghai as the city enters its third day of strict lockdown, with growing reports of residents unable to access food, medicine and other essentials.

The city’s Covid lockdown was extended indefinitely earlier this week after staggered restrictions failed to contain infections. City officials had promised the staggered lockdown would end on April 5, leaving many residents of the Chinese megacity unprepared to remain confined to their homes indefinitely.

Despite the tough measures, cases in Shanghai continue to rise as mandatory testing continues. The city reported 20,398 new infections on Friday, 824 of them symptomatic.

Frustrated cries for help are circulating on Weibo, China’s microblogging platform, where residents complain of a lack of food and anarchic lockdown measures.

“It doesn’t matter where you live, whether you have money or not, you have to worry about what else you can eat and how you can buy things,” read a comment on Thursday.

“Do you want to starve the people of Baoshan to death?” writes a suburban resident, complaining of a lack of food.

There were also signs that medical volunteers who were brought into the city to help with the pandemic effort were themselves struggling to access food.

“Are the supplies only for people in Shanghai? … As a foreigner, I can volunteer, but why aren’t goods and supplies allocated to us? a female medical volunteer cries in a video on Douyin, the Chinese TikTok-like platform.

A video posted on social media, but not verified, shows a man shouting on the phone to authorities, saying he is starving.

Drones flew overhead over the city earlier this week, video on Chinese social media showed, warning people protesting on their balconies to stay indoors.

Growing calls for help are also raising concerns elsewhere in the country. “Every day when I wake up and check Weibo, it’s either a message crying out for help or an abusive message about not being able to grab food. No one would have thought that in 2022 , there would be a large-scale food shortage in Shanghai,” a Weibo user from Ningbo, south of the city in Zhejiang province, wrote on Thursday.

Rights watchers have also expressed growing concern. “The use of the word ‘lockdown’ can be quite imprecise when used in China compared to the rest of the world,” said Maya Wang, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, adding that it did not fully capture the seriousness of the situation.

Affluent residents have turned to groups to buy supplies in bulk, but access to these avenues is beyond the reach of the most vulnerable. “If you are poor or disabled or elderly, you can often be excluded from these resources or not know about these resources. The consequences can be quite disastrous,” Wang said, commenting on reports that some elderly people have died during lockdown after not being able to access life-saving medicines.

The strict lockdown in the cosmopolitan city of 26 million is shaping up to be the biggest challenge to China’s strict ‘dynamic zero’ policy. Analysts say any easing of restrictions will be unlikely before a meeting of the party’s 20th National Congress in November, where Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expected to seek another five-year term.

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