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China and Covid19

Shanghai Lockdown on Social Media: “Panic Surrounding Epidemic More Dangerous than Epidemic Itself”

In the midst of the Shanghai phased lockdown, some on social media say present-day Shanghai feels like two worlds in one city.

Manya Koetse



As the stress of the Shanghai lockdown is taking its toll on people, many on social media are asking for help and are wondering if the panic surrounding the epidemic is more harmful than the epidemic itself.

On Sunday, March 27, local authorities in Shanghai announced that in light of the unprecedented Covid-19 spike in the city, parts of the city were going into lockdown. The city’s shutdown was planned to take place in two stages, with the eastern side of the city going into lockdown until 1 April, and the western side from 1-5 April, but the lockdown was already extended on Thursday night.

The Shanghai lockdowns are taking place amidst China’s worst Covid-19 outbreak since Wuhan. From March 1 to March 31st, the country saw a total of 103965 new cases across 29 provinces, as stated by Lei Zhenglong (雷正龙), the deputy head of the National Health Commission (NHC)’s Bureau of Disease Prevention and Control, with 90% of all Covid-19 cases found in Jilin province and Shanghai.

Since the Shanghai Covid-19 situation has become grimmer, many stories have come out on Chinese social media of citizens who are struggling to get their medicine, are not getting the medical care they need, or those stories about children and elderly left to their own devices without proper care. Some of these people are inside locked-down communities, others are quarantined at a local hospital or another quarantine facility.

One Weibo post of March 31st said:

“Help! The parents both tested positive and were taken away for isolation, the child is alone at home. The neighborhood committee is not listening, please help this child!”

The post asked for help for a 10-year-old girl left at home alone in the Pudong district of Shanghai. Since the girl allegedly tested negative, she could stay at home while her caregivers had to leave. According to the Weibo post, the girl was crying and the neighbours called for help for her, but so far she had not received any and was still all by herself in the apartment.

Also on March 31st, one person suffering from renal (kidney) disease called out for help on Weibo after missing out on his daily dialysis treatment for ten days already. The 41-year-old man, named Huang, tested positive for Covid-19 on March 27 and was transferred to the Fifth People’s Hospital of Shanghai Fudan University for quarantine on March 30. Huang wrote on Weibo:

“I haven’t been able to eat or drink for four days. My entire body is swollen and I can’t urinate. I beg the Shanghai government to hurry up and let me get dialysis, please save my life, I can’t die, I have parents and children to take care of, I need to survive. I beg you, help me.”

Huang’s post was forwarded over 25,000 times and received hundreds of comments. Not long after, his entire account was deleted. “Shanghai, what’s happening?,” one person wondered.

A day earlier, on March 30, news surfaced on social media that one person living in Shanghai’s Pudong district was not able to get proper emergency care after suffering from an asthma attack. The person allegedly called the emergency line at 8 am but the ambulance did not arrive until 9.40 am. They had already passed away by then. On March 31st, the Shanghai Pudong Health Care Commission publicly apologized for the incident and said that the emergency doctor in question had been suspended for not adequately responding to the situation (#官方回应上海哮喘老人救助无效去世#).

A week before, on March 23, a Shanghai nurse also died of an asthma attack because the Covid-19 restrictions at the hospital she worked for prevented her from getting treatment there.

These stories and others have generated many discussions on Chinese social media over the past week about the way in which Shanghai is dealing with the Covid-19 surge and the overall direction the epidemic measurements in China are heading.

One popular article posted on WeChat on April 1st is titled “More Dangerous than the Epidemic Is the Panic Surrounding the Epidemic” (“比疫情更危险的,是对疫情的恐慌”). In this article -since deleted- the author shares some thoughts about the Shanghai lockdown and the panic that broke out among residents once it became clear that they would have to stay inside. Videos of people fighting over food at the supermarkets went viral as so many residents rushed to the stores to fill up their carts with vegetables and noodles (see Twitter thread here).

“I thought that since two years have already passed, the people would be able to treat the now weakened virus more rationally, but actually the reality is not at all like this – many people are still living in a state of panic, and the contagious effect of this kind of panic has generated a wider sense of panic. Looking at Shanghai now, the people are not just afraid of Covid-19, but more afraid of not being able to buy vegetables, no being able to get medication or see a doctor, not getting timely help in case of an emergency,…People in Shanghai now are not afraid of testing positive but they are afraid of being taken to a quarantine site where nobody care about you. Every family living together with elderly or small children can only pray that nobody falls ill during the lockdown. What would otherwise be a small problem could now become a big problem, what would otherwise be a big problem could now become fatal.”

In response to the story about the 10-year-old girl being left home all alone, one Weibo commenter wrote:

“If we can’t even protect the lives of the helpless, the small and the weak, then what? I would do anything to protect them and save them, not because I’m showing off, but because it’s the humane thing to do. I’d really like to ask this society: we were once courageous and fearless, where did it go?”

Another Weibo user posted on April 1st:

“We’re in Pudong. We were previously aware that it was going to be difficult and still went to the supermarket when we could. Before they said takeout and express delivery would be available, now there is nothing. Not a single supermarket is opened, the last shop that was still doing take-out delivery has now also closed. We still have our kitchen stove and some reserves, we can cook meals. But there are many Shanghai drifters [non-locals who work in the city] who don’t have takeaway and no vegetables to eat. (..) I support the fight against the epidemic and I don’t agree with opening everything up. But we should choose the lesser of two evils between the reality of people breaking down because they are not able to eat; not able to see a doctor; not able to get one single dish; not able to leave the house at all, and the risks we face if we’d let society proceed normally. I’m just a normal citizen, not some foreign influence, and I’m just describing what I see as someone who is right in the middle of it.”

One aspect of the Shanghai Covid-19 crisis that has been highlighted by some social media users is that the experiences of people throughout the city are sometimes wildly different depending on their community and district location.

One Weibo user nicknamed ‘Panda Eating Winter Bamboo Shoots’ wrote just before the lockdown:

“Our community has already been in lockdown for ten days, and tomorrow Pudong will also be locked down for four days. I’m seeing people who are free going to the supermarket since early morning, frantically grabbing food, while the ones who are not free like us are just sitting at home, worried. We’re in the same Shanghai, yet our situations are worlds apart (..) Friends in areas that are not in lockdown are ordering takeaway, going out shopping, buying coffee, and people are still not wearing face masks when visiting trendy restaurants.”

Another Weibo blogger wrote on April 1st: “I’ve been in lockdown for 17 days and have been seeing pictures online of influencers in Shanghai posting selfies and leaving their house for food, while here I am – locked up inside.”

After the eastern side of the city went into lockdown, one commenter wrote: “Shanghai really is like two worlds now. Discontent is openly voiced in the enemy-held territory, the liberated area is undisturbed.”

“But we are still all struggling to buy vegetables,” one person responded, while others stressed that many people in Pudong were really becoming desperate due to a lack of food and organized help for them.

At the same time, more photos are popping up everywhere on social media of food packages provided to people by the Shanghai government (#上海发菜#). Very much like the situation in Xi’an during the lockdown earlier this year, people are expressing gratefulness for receiving food at a time when so many are stressing about not having enough to eat.

One person on Weibo writes what so many are wondering: “Shanghai, when will you go back to normal?”

By Manya Koetse

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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    charles webster baer

    April 3, 2022 at 8:55 am

    I want to move to china next year to teach english .

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China and Covid19

Repurposing China’s Abandoned Nucleic Acid Booths: 10 Innovative Transformations

Abandoned nucleic acid booths are getting a second life through these new initiatives.

Manya Koetse



During the pandemic, nucleic acid testing booths in Chinese cities were primarily focused on maintaining physical distance. Now, empty booths are being repurposed to bring people together, serving as new spaces to serve the community and promote social engagement.

Just months ago, nucleic acid testing booths were the most lively spots of some Chinese cities. During the 2022 Shanghai summer, for example, there were massive queues in front of the city’s nucleic acid booths, as people needed a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours for accessing public transport, going to work, or visiting markets and malls.

The word ‘hésuān tíng‘ (核酸亭), nucleic acid booth (also:核酸采样小屋), became a part of China’s pandemic lexicon, just like hésuān dìtú (核酸地图), the nucleic acid test map lauched in May 2022 that would show where you can get a nucleic test.

Example of nucleic acid test map.

During Halloween parties in Shanghai in 2022, some people even came dressed up as nucleic test booths – although local authorities could not appreciate the creative costume.

Halloween 2022: dressed up as nucliec acid booths. Via @manyapan twitter.

In December 2022, along with the announced changed rules in China’s ‘zero Covid’ approach, nucleic acid booths were suddenly left dismantled and empty.

With many cities spending millions to set up these booths in central locations, the question soon arose: what should they do with the abandoned booths?

This question also relates to who actually owns them, since the ownership is mixed. Some booths were purchased by authorities, others were bought by companies, and there are also local communities owning their own testing booths. Depending on the contracts and legal implications, not all booths are able to get a new function or be removed yet (Worker’s Daily).

In Tianjin, a total of 266 nucleic acid booths located in Jinghai District were listed for public acquisition earlier this month, and they were acquired for 4.78 million yuan (US$683.300) by a local food and beverage company which will transform the booths into convenience service points, selling snacks or providing other services.

Tianjin is not the only city where old nucleic acid testing booths are being repurposed. While some booths have been discarded, some companies and/or local governments – in cooperation with local communities – have demonstrated creativity by transforming the booths into new landmarks. Since the start of 2023, different cities and districts across China have already begun to repurpose testing booths. Here, we will explore ten different way in which China’s abandoned nucleic test booths get a second chance at a meaningful existence.


1: Pharmacy/Medical Booths

Via ‘copyquan’ republished on Sohu.

Blogger ‘copyquan’ recently explored various ways in which abandoned PCR testing points are being repurposed.

One way in which they are used is as small pharmacies or as medical service points for local residents (居民医疗点). Alleviating the strain on hospitals and pharmacies, this was one of the earliest ways in which the booths were repurposed back in December of 2022 and January of 2023.

Chongqing, Tianjin, and Suzhou were among earlier cities where some testing booths were transformed into convenient medical facilities.


2: Market Stalls

Market stalls instead of nucliec acid testing booths. Image via Sina.

In Suzhou, Jiangsu province, the local government transformed vacant nucleic acid booths into market stalls for the Spring Festival in January 2022, offering them free of charge to businesses to sell local products, snacks, and traditional New Year goods.

The idea was not just meant as a way for small businesses to conveniently sell to local residents, it was also meant as a way to attract more shoppers and promote other businesses in the neighborhood.


3: Community Service Center

Small grid community center in Shizhuang Village, image via Sohu.

Some residential areas have transformed their local nucleic acid testing booths into community service centers, offering all kinds of convenient services to neighborhood residents.

These little station are called wǎnggé yìzhàn (网格驿站) or “grid service stations,” and they can serve as small community centers where residents can get various kinds of care and support.


4: “Refuel” Stations

In February of this year, 100 idle nucleic acid sampling booths were transformed into so-called “Rider Refuel Stations” (骑士加油站) in Zhejiang’s Pinghu. Although it initially sounds like a place where delivery riders can fill up their fuel tanks, it is actually meant as a place where they themselves can recharge.

Delivery riders and other outdoor workers can come to the ‘refuel’ station to drink some water or tea, warm their hands, warm up some food and take a quick nap.


5: Free Libraries

image via sohu.

In various Chinese cities, abandoned nucleic acid booths have been transformed into little free libraries where people can grab some books to read, donate or return other books, and sit down for some reading.

Changzhou is one of the places where you’ll find such “drifting bookstores” (漂流书屋) (see video), but similar initiatives have also been launched in other places, including Suzhou.


6: Study Space

Photos via Copyquan’s article on Sohu.

Another innovative way in which old testing points are being repurposed is by turning them into places where students can sit together to study. The so-called “Let’s Study Space” (一间习吧), fully airconditioned, are opened from 8 in the morning until 22:00 at night.

Students – or any citizens who would like a nice place to study – can make online reservations with their ID cards and scan a QR code to enter the study rooms.

There are currently ten study booths in Anji, and the popular project is an initiative by the Anji County Library in Zhejiang (see video).


7: Beer Kiosk

Hoegaarden beer shop, image via Creative Adquan.

Changing an old nucleic acid testing booth into a beer bar is a marketing initiative by the Shanghai McCann ad agency for the Belgium beer brand Hoegaarden.

The idea behind the bar is to celebrate a new spring after the pandemic. The ad agency has revamped a total of six formr nucleic acid booths into small Hoegaarden ‘beer gardens.’


8: Police Box

In Taizhou City, Jiangsu Province, authorities have repurposed old testing booths and transformed them into ‘police boxes’ (警务岗亭) to enhance security and improve the visibility of city police among the public.

Currently, a total of eight vacant nucleic acid booths have been renovated into modern police stations, serving as key points for police presence and interaction with the community.


9: Lottery Ticket Booths

Image via The Paper

Some nucleic acid booths have now been turned into small shops selling lottery tickets for the China Welfare Lottery. One such place turning the kiosks into lottery shops is Songjiang in Shanghai.

Using the booths like this is a win-win situation: they are placed in central locations so it is more convenient for locals to get their lottery tickets, and on the other hand, the sales also help the community, as the profits are used for welfare projects, including care for the elderly.


10: Mini Fire Stations

Micro fire stations, images via ZjNews.

Some communities decided that it would be useful to repurpose the testing points and turn them into mini fire kiosks, just allowing enough space for the necessary equipment to quickly respond to fire emergencies.

Want to read more about the end of ‘zero Covid’ in China? Check our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse,

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

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China and Covid19

The Hottest Place in China: How Zibo Became a Popular Tourist Destination and an Online Hit

There are even special Zibo BBQ trains now. This is how Zibo barbecue suddenly became the hottest meal of the country.

Manya Koetse



The old industrial city of Zibo treated students well during their zero Covid quarantine. This spring, they came back to celebrate the city. Their enthusiasm and social media posts were so contagious that the entire country now wants a taste of Zibo barbecue.

In central Shandong province, bordering the provincial capital Jinan to the west, you will find the city of Zibo (淄博). With its 4.7 million inhabitants, the old industrial and mining city was not exactly known as a trendy tourist destination. But that has all changed now. Everybody is talking about Zibo.

For the upcoming May 1st holiday, hotel bookings in Zibo went up 800% compared to 2019, making it one of the most popular destinations in Shandong. The city has especially attracted online attention since March of 2023, with hashtags and hot searches peaking over the previous week.

How did Zibo become such an online sensation, especially among China’s young travelers? The city’s hit status is widely discussed on Chinese social media apps these days. The emergence of such an overnight sensation is usually the result of various factors coming together at the right time, and this is also the case with the hype surrounding Zibo.

Zibo Barbecue

Its appealing barbecue culture is the first and main reason why Zibo is so hot nowadays. The city has been known for its barbecue restaurants for years, and creating a thriving open-air BBQ entertainment environment is also something the local authorities have invested in. They are publicizing Zibo as an ambassador city for “Friendly Shandong” (“好客山东”), the slogan the province uses to promote its image and boost tourism.

The Zibo BBQ experience includes every table having its own small stove and it has that ‘do it yourself’ factor that hotpot-style dinners also have: when the skewers are served, the diners have to grill them themselves and then wrap them in thin pancakes, usually with spring onions.

Zibo barbecue, images via social media.

As one of its tourism promotion initiatives, Zibo has set up special tourist trains and dedicated BBQ bus routes to attract groups of tourists and boost local tourism after the pandemic years. Train ticket sales for May 1st already doubled that of Spring Festival, and tickets for the Beijing South-Zibo route sold out online within a minute the moment they became available.

A Kind City in Difficult Times

Another reason for Zibo’s sudden fame was suggested by some Chinese netizens (including the popular @地瓜熊老六), who said that Zibo played a special role during China’s zero-Covid policy.

Zibo first went trending after a group of students from Jinan went there in March of this year. They came to Zibo because this was where they apparently were quarantined for a while during Covid, and they were well taken care of during their stay.

According to one Zibo local, the students also celebrated their last night in Zibo at the time with a major BBQ feast.

It is said that the students from Jinan wanted to go back to Zibo at this time and spend time there as a way to thank the city – not knowing they would start a viral sensation.

Power of TikTok

Douyin, the Chinese TikTok app, is also at the heart of Zibo’s recent success.

As reported by 36kr, Zibo first became a hot topic on Douyin in early March, when the videos of the initial groups of students taking the high-speed train to Zibo to eat barbecue went viral.

In April, Zibo again hit the hot trending lists on Douyin after one vlogger tried out ten different food stalls in the city and found that they all gave him the right portions or even gave him some extra food for free, reinforcing the idea that Zibo is a hospitable city.

What followed was a snowball effect, from Douyin to Xiaohongshu to Weibo, with videos showing Zibo diners singing together while eating and having a good time spreading all over social media, only increasing the appeal of the city. “Zibo is just all over my timeline,” some commenters wrote on April 15.

Crazy Travel after Covid

According to the Chinese media platform DT Finance (DT财经), Zibo is a destination that especially resonates with Chinese students who have new wishes when it comes to traveling.

Especially during the pandemic and China’s stringent Covid measures, many people have spent a lot of time indoors, quarantined, locked down, and/or unable to travel. Now that spring is here, people want to seize the moment and go out and enjoy their leisure time. This also means that instead of planning longer holidays well in advance, people book shorter, last-minute trips.

Social media pics of Zibo trips.

This is also one of the reasons why Zibo is especially popular among students from Shandong, who can hop on a train, reach their destination, and find themselves enjoying a beer and barbecue within a matter of hours.

Stories from Zibo

In light of the craze surrounding Zibo, there are various stories emerging from the thriving city that only add to its charm. For example, there are many videos showing the lively scenes around BBQ restaurants which went viral.

One visitor needed to catch his train but still wanted a taste of Zibo BBQ, so one female shop owner hurried things along and made sure he got his Zibo dinner (#淄博老板娘为赶高铁小伙1v1烤串#).

Then there was a 95-year-old veteran who visited the Zibo BBQ scene and his visit also made its rounds on social media (#95岁老兵体验淄博烧烤被围观#).

Another trending hashtag is about Zibo’s music events (#淄博音乐节#), about some of the planned events and (rock) concerts taking place in Zibo in late April and early May. “Zibo’s cultural tourism office really understand how to do it,” various commenters wrote, praising how Zibo is not just known for its barbecue restaurants but also for its lively music scene.

Then there are the videos showing an entire crowd singing ‘happy birthday’ because one person is celebrating their birthday.

All in all, it’s clear that Zibo did something right. Especially in these times when so many cities across China are doing all they can to promote their town as a tourist destination (read all about it here), Zibo has proven that consistency is key to success: stay kind, be reliable, but most of all, keep the barbecue hot.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

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