Max Wan ordered a second fridge earlier this week and plans to stuff it with food for himself and his pets.
The 39-year-old Australian screenwriter lives in Beijing, where health authorities are mass testing nearly 22 million people in a bid to control a COVID-19 outbreak.
Mr Wan said he received text messages and phone calls from his friends in Shanghai who were enduring harsh lockdowns. They suggested he stock up on food.
“They see the situation [in Beijing] is going to get very serious,” he said.
Despite their warning, Mr Wan said he was not panicking about food shortages similar to what happened in Shanghai, but he thought it would be “wise” to buy a new fridge.
He said many Beijing residents were also stockpiling essential supplies such as food, water and toilet paper because they were worried they might struggle securing those items if the city went into lockdown.
Millions of people in Beijing’s largest district have had their second COVID-19 test this week, with the Chinese capital trying to keep an outbreak of dozens from spiralling into a crisis.
“The Beijing municipal government told people not to worry about basic supplies, but people took it as a signal to stock up on [goods],” Mr Wan said.
“There’s a sense of disillusionment with the government policies.”
Beijing’s local health authority officially recorded 56 new COVID-19 cases on April 27, including three asymptomatic cases.
Earlier this week, Beijing authorities expanded mass testing from one of its 16 districts to 11, fuelling expectations of an imminent widespread lockdown.
Beijing locals alert but not alarmed
Most of Beijing’s COVID cases have recorded in the Chaoyang District, which was partially put under lockdown on April 24.
One resident in the district who only wanted to be known by her surname, Ji, said the lockdown prompted panic buying in the area last weekend.
“Nearly 100 people in the supermarket were snapping up groceries,” Ms Ji told the ABC.
“[Bulk shopping] has been going on since the first new case appeared in Chaoyang District.”
Ms Ji is also preparing for a lockdown and has bought enough food to last her at least 20 days.
“I bought rice, noodles, vegetables, toilet paper and daily necessities, as well as foods that are easy to store like sausages,” she said.
“I didn’t buy too many vegetables because they go off easily.”
Despite her preparations, Ms Ji said she was not too concerned about a lockdown, but a full pantry made her feel secure.
Another Chaoyang resident, who only wants to be known as Mr Yi, said the outbreak was not as serious as what was being reported online.
“We can still go to work and eat outside as usual, or even go to karaoke,” he said.
“My grandparents also go out every day to buy food. They’re not afraid because they’re vaccinated.”
Shanghai residents offer advice
Shanghai residents have taken to Chinese social media to advise Beijing locals to prepare for a lockdown.
In a video posted on WeChat and shared 100,000 times, Shanghai-based doctor Zhang Qiang said Beijing residents should learn lessons from his hometown’s experience.
Shanghai authorities may be loosening the city’s COVID lockdown, but after weeks of uncertainty, foreign workers are considering leaving.
“I used to think the same as my Beijing friends, who do not believe they need to purchase more food,” Dr Zhang said.
“Maybe they disagree it’s necessary. But they will get [locked down] sooner or later.”
In another popular WeChat post, the author compiled a list of important tips for lockdown, including building a connection with members of the local community.
“Be sure to get in touch with your neighbours and neighbourhood committees. They are the very people who can help you at the critical moment,” the post read.
On China’s Twitter, Weibo, one Shanghai resident posted a detailed chart, called ‘guidelines for stockpiling’.
The chart listed hundreds of goods, from food to medicine, and even home appliances and self-care items.
Sylvia Hu, a Shanghai resident, said she advised her colleagues in Beijing to shop for more groceries.
“The more, the better,” she said.
“You can only rely on yourself.”
Suzy Li, 27, has been living in lockdown for more than one month in Shanghai’s Pudong District.
When asked what advice she had for Beijingers, she said: “Long-term storable food like [long life] milk, frozen dumplings, pastries and cookies. Also, necessary spices for cooking including oil, salt, soy sauce and vinegar.”
Beijing’s local government has told the public it has new policies in place to prevent a Shanghai-style lockdown if the outbreak escalates.
An official, Zhao Weidong, told local media the government would make sure the price of essential supplies did not rise, additional trucks and food would be deployed if needed, and businesses would be allowed to work longer hours and continue deliveries.
State-run media reported supermarkets in Beijing have stocked up with double and triple the usual amount of daily goods, especially vegetables, eggs, meat and fruit.
Feng Xiaoqi, an associate professor at UNSW who has researched public health in China, said the policies implemented by the local government showed Beijing authorities have learned from experiences in Shanghai.
“Unlike Shanghai, Beijing is encouraging local stores to run their businesses,” Dr Feng said.
“The government-supplied food was sent to residents [in lockdown] quickly and they are sending the vegetables that are easy to store, like cabbages, potatoes and onions.”
“Besides, Beijing is China’s capital city. With the strong administrative power, the political centre is less likely to experience supply shortage.”
In response to a question about the recent outbreak in Beijing at a regular press briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the country would not change its COVID-zero strategy.
“We are resolutely fighting the virus,” he said.
“We will win the battle.”
However, Dr Feng warned that a long-term lockdown might affect people’s mental health and spark discontent in the community.
“It is just the beginning in Beijing now,” she said.
“While the fatality rate of the Omicron variant is relatively low, our question remains the same about the strict COVID-19 policies. Are they really necessary?”
Group of various people in a queue outside on Beijing street with masks on
People line up to be tested for COVID-19 at a makeshift testing site in Beijing. [ABC]
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