It was not unusual to have a drink or dinner at the French concession and other central neighborhoods of Shanghaii without seeing a chinese in the local. The massive foreign colony, as iconic as the Bund embankment or Yuyuan Gardens, is leaving en masse these days, traumatized by the recent lockdown, fearful of the next one and exhausted by uncertainty.
“The first thing my wife told me when she got home after spending 20 days in a quarantine hotel was that she wanted to leave. We had never considered leaving, here we were in glory”, reveals Juan, a 50-year-old Andalusian architect. The Shanghai lockdown bordered on three months when it had been planned for nine days. Lto detention, the chaotic supply of food, the transfers to quarantine centers of the positive and unfulfilled promises of imminent openings, to make the shortlist, exhausted many of the 25 million Shanghainese.
The drive to escape grew in the foreign community and a recent survey revealed that 85% planned to leave. These are busy days for relocation companies managing moves, closing Chinese bank accounts or processing pet health permits. There is no data on the magnitude of the output but the signs are alarming. “I am in three Wechat groups (the chinese whatsapp), all with hundreds of foreigners and called exodus, where people exchange information about flights and other matters”, adds Marcos, who will leave for Thailand shortly.
Vibrant and multicultural
shanghai is the most westernized Chinese city and the bridge between East and West, as vibrant and multicultural as New York or London. The colonial powers shared it out after the Opium Wars and foreigners returned en masse decades ago, Maoism already retired, to participate in the economic miracle. Their foreigners repeat that life is “easier” than in Beijing due to its percentage of English speakers, European biorhythms or the absence of the suffocating officialdom of the capital.
The coronavirus placed in front of its advantages the difficulty of leaving the country due to the scarcity and scarcity of flights. Half of Europeans have left since the start of the pandemic, calculated Jörg Wuttke, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if half of those who are still left also leave,” he added. The closure of the famous restaurant M on the Bund was symbolic, frequented by the foreign colony, and barely a third of the Korean restaurants remain on the street where they were crowded. Businesses aimed at the foreign community are no longer viable.
Carlos, a renewable energy engineer, will return to Europe after eight years in Shanghai. His first month of quarantine was chaotic: the neighborhood committee sealed his house after he and his partner tested positive, he feared for a fire and for the fate of his cats if both were taken to quarantine centers, he argued with the police, he resorted to embassies… “I could see myself here for another ten years. I love Shanghai and Chinese culture and gastronomy, here you earn much more money than in Spain and before I used to travel to Europe or Asia every month for work. But we have not left China in the last three years, we have missed family weddings and the birth of nephews, ”he notes. His departure, he adds, does not respond to those turbulent weeks but to uncertainty. “We do not know how long this situation is going to last: the mandatory tests every 48 hours, the new quarantines as soon as a case is detected in your neighborhood, the very expensive plane tickets and the risk of cancellation… The whole thing no longer seems profitable to us. We don’t rule out returning if we don’t get used to Spain, but only when Shanghai returns to what it was before”, he adds.
There is no shortage in China of the figure of the “angry expatriate”, stubbornly critical of the government, food and the Chinese, locked in his foreign bubble and with no reason to stay other than his salary. It was predictable that the zero tolerance It would be excessive for them, but the Shanghai confinement has also defeated the integrated ones. “I have lived here for ten years, I have many Chinese friends, my son speaks better Mandarin than Spanish or English. There is no better place to raise your children, without the violence or pornography they are exposed to in Spain and absolute safety on the streets. I’m going to miss Shanghai a lot”, laments Juan.
Many maintain that it is premature to speak of an exodus, that some of those who promised to leave will stay, that others will return soon and that the Pearl of the Orient will regain its shine as soon as the pandemic subsides.
The authorities will re-confine 2.7 million people for massive tests
Shanghai will again confine a district with 2.7 million people on Saturday to carry out a massive coronavirus test, indicated the authorities of this city that has not finished turning the page from the harsh confinement of the last two months. The affected district is the southwestern district of Minghang and the closure will be lifted when the samples have been collected.
The statement does not detail what action will be taken if residents test positive. But in accordance with China’s restrictive “zero covid” approach, all positives and their close contacts are sent to quarantine compounds. Isolation is often decreed for all neighbors in a building. Shanghai recorded 9 new local infections on Thursday, but none of these were in Minhang.
The announcement is frightening among users of social networks, who fear seeing the confinement prolonged if positive cases are detected. “They have to clarify if it will actually rise when the samples have been collected,” said a Weibo user. “If there are abnormal results after the tests, what are they going to do? Continue the confinement?” asked another.
After the harsh lockdown, the city has slowly come back to life in recent days, with commuters on subways and buses returning to work and residents gathering in parks or on the riverbank. But others face continuous restrictions that generate some protests, such as residents of a confined building in the Xuhui district.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.