Four days after the coronavirus lockdown in her area of Shanghai, Ding Tingting began to worry about the old man who lived alone in the apartment below her. She knocked on his door and found that his food supply was running low and that he didn’t know how to get online to buy more.
Ms. Ding helped him buy food, but also began to think about the many elderly people living alone in her neighborhood. Using the Chinese messaging app WeChat, she and her friends set up groups to connect people in need with nearby volunteers who could deliver food and medicine. When one woman’s father-in-law suddenly passed out, a network of volunteers found a neighbor with a blood pressure monitor and made sure it was brought quickly.
“Life cannot be put on hold due to the lockdown,” said Ms Dean, a 25-year-old art curator.
In its relentless efforts to eradicate the virus, China has relied on hundreds of thousands of low-ranking party officials in district committees to organize mass testing and coordinate transportation to hospitals and detention centers. Officials issued special passes to patients to receive medicines and other essentials during the lockdown.
But the recent surge in Shanghai has stunned the city. 50,000 local officials, leaving residents struggling to get food, medical care, and even pet care. Angry and frustrated, some took matters into their own hands, volunteering to help those in need when the Chinese Communist Party was unable or unwilling, testing the party’s legitimacy in times of crisis.
“The Chinese Communist Party claims that only the Communist Party can provide basic order and livelihood for every person in China,” said Victor Shi, a professor of political science at the University of California San Diego. Shanghai residents now trying to get food and other necessities, “the credibility of these claims has probably weakened,” he said.
in Shanghai where one of the three people over 60, residents are particularly concerned that older people are being neglected. Many do not use smartphones or use WeChat or any of the dozens of Chinese online shopping apps that make modern life convenient. Unable to leave their homes, they were cut off from everyday life.
“I really see the struggle of some older people,” said Danli Zhou, a member of a task force of volunteers in his upscale downtown area. The group works in shifts to help get goods from the lobby to the residents’ doors.
During one of his shifts, Mr. Zhou said he knocked on the door of an old man who seemed to be struggling to speak. He asked to see the man’s phone and received the contact details of his daughter, who lives in another area of the city. Mr. Zhou connected his daughter to several WeChat groups in the building where neighbors bought food and arranged for delivery.
“There are quite a lot of lonely elderly people in the building,” Mr. Zhou said. “Considering group purchases – it even took me a while to figure out the system.”
Among the tens of thousands of new volunteers in Shanghai, a sense of community has grown in a sprawling metropolis with more residents than any other city in China and where most are accustomed to anonymity. Many say they were more familiar with their co-workers than with their neighbors before the outbreak.
Yvonne Mao, a 31-year-old project manager at a tech company in Shanghai, never bothered to get to know her neighbors before the Omicron variant began sweeping through her city. After someone tested positive for the virus in her home, she panicked and reached out for help by filling out a form she found on the Internet meant to connect people to volunteers in every district of Shanghai.
Soon after, Ms. Mao received a call from a middle-aged volunteer who lived above her in her house and said he wanted to visit her. After this experience, she signed up to help distribute food and other necessities to other neighbors.
“I feel unity and have become close to my neighbors,” Ms. Mao said.
Volunteers have also become an essential resource for the hundreds of thousands of people sent to isolation after testing positive, suddenly forced to leave their daily lives without much preparation.
When a video of paramedics in white hazmat suits beating corgis went viral, animal rights volunteers joined the cause. The owner released the dog outside after failing to find someone to take care of the pet before sending it into quarantine, state media reported. The official later admitted that the beating was a mistake, but many pet owners were furious.
Volunteers distributed online forms for residents to sign up for pet care services in the city’s neighborhoods. These groups have helped transfer pets to temporary homes or foster homes when owners have tested positive and provided advice on how to walk dogs on the balcony.
However, even these small acts of kindness have met with some opposition from local authorities.
Akiko Lee, an animal rights group volunteer, helped find a home for a white-haired, blue-eyed cat named Guaiguai when her owner contacted her in a panic. Ms. Li found a high school student who lived in the same apartment complex as Guaiguai’s owner who could go to the apartment to pick up the cat.
“During this process, we faced a lot of resistance,” said Ms. Li, 28. “We were not allowed to enter the area because it was strictly sealed off.”
In Shanghai’s northern suburb of Baoshan, Hura Lin, an 18-year-old high school student, adopted a cat named Drumstick after her owner tested positive for the virus. It’s the least she could do, Ms. Lin said. “I don’t expect to be able to solve the problem; I just want to help as much as possible.”
Some people, instead of volunteering, are simply suggesting informal ways to ease the daily stress of life under lockdown in Shanghai by gathering helpful information and guides on the internet, giving treats to jaded neighbors or morale-boosting videos.
In Ms. Mao’s neighborhood, another volunteer, Perla Shi, prepares free coffee every morning for her neighbors in her small kitchen. She takes orders daily and delivers them in takeaway cups that she was able to purchase at a nearby store.
She decided to do something after several acts of kindness from her neighbors: one of them offered to take care of her short-legged cat, Sixy, if Ms. Shi, 35, tested positive. Another put fresh homemade bread at her door. The third brought a whole box of yogurt.
“They all had few resources, but they still fed me from time to time,” Ms. Shi said. “I thought, my God, I need to do something for them too.”