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Elderly Man in China’s Northeast Denied Right to Buy Food Amid Pandemic Restrictions

A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: March 30, 2022
A resident undergoes a nucleic acid test for COVID-19 in China's Jilin province on March 11, 2022. (Image: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Under the country’s “Zero-COVID” policy, authorities in China have enacted some of the strictest COVID restrictions since the pandemic began in Wuhan over two years ago. Most recently, the financial hub of Shanghai was placed into a two-phase lockdown that will affect 26 million residents.

China’s northeastern province of Jilin has also experienced an uptick in positive cases as authorities lock down entire cities in efforts to curb further spread of the virus. Last week, Jilin Province reported 1,055 confirmed locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, including 622 in the capital of Changchun.

As a result of the lockdowns, supermarkets were shut down for several days in Changchun and some residents reported an increased shortage of food and other essentials.

A video posted on Twitter shows an elderly man outside a supermarket being ejected by a store clerk several times as he begs them for food. Because the supermarket was closed, the unidentified man can be seen standing outside of the glass door, asking the clerk if he has any food to spare. The clerk responds by telling him to order groceries online, using WeChat – a multi-purpose instant messaging, social media and mobile payment app widely used in China.

“What is WeChat?” The old man asked.

To which the clerk replies, “It’s on your phone.”

The man’s voice is heard cracking as he again asks, “Where can I get WeChat?”

After standing there for a while, the man begs the clerk to have pity on him and give him some food but the store employee still refuses to open the door.

(Video: via Twitter)

After the heartbreaking video was reposted many times across Chinese social media, Changchun authorities identified the individual in the video and wrote on March 27 that the man, surnamed Wang, lives in the city’s Chongzhi Community on Chongqing Street. Wang was cared for by his three children, but after the newest lockdown was imposed on March 19, he has been living alone and has struggled to obtain food.

Changchun, home to 4.5 million people, is the capital of Jilin Province and was locked down by authorities on March 19. Public transportation and many stores such as supermarkets and pharmacies were ordered to shut down and residents had to resort to buying food online. For elderly residents such as Wang, however, this has proven to be an impossible task as some seniors may not have smartphones or do not know how to place the orders.

Another resident told a U.S.-based reporter for The Epoch Times on March 27 that the pandemic situation in Changchun was very serious and many districts remained under lockdown. Because people couldn’t go out of their buildings to buy food, they could only buy stuff online. But for some residents, such as Wang, this had been extremely difficult.

“Some communities couldn’t get food even after joining more than 20 grocery shopping groups. People are anxious. Online shops don’t accept individual orders, only group orders organized by whole communities.”

In this screenshot, a resident describes how supermarkets have been closed for several days in Changchun and the difficulty they have experienced in obtaining fresh vegetables that are often extremely overpriced. (Image: via The Epoch Times)

Another video posted online showed desperate residents unable to procure food having only instant noodles and porridge to eat.

“What is more difficult is the elderly who live alone and don’t know how to shop online, pregnant women, and patients who need life-saving medicine. The medicine cannot be delivered to those who need it.” Wang said.

Although the pandemic has claimed millions of lives worldwide and caused catastrophic economic losses for some countries, Chinese authorities claim slightly over 147,000 infections and less than 5,000 deaths nationwide — hailing its “zero COVID” policies as instrumental.

Despite this claim, there has been considerable doubt cast over the veracity of these figures as well as the effectiveness of Beijing’s stringent lockdown policies and quarantine measures. These policies have included disinfection theatrics, draconian lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions to sustain China’s illusion of curbing the pandemic’s spread — oftentimes resulting in tragedy and violence. 

The heavy-handed measures have also brought enormous strain to the national economy, social life, and psychological health of residents in China.