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China Deploys Special COVID Task Force to Shanghai as Cases Skyrocket

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: March 31, 2022
A worker wearing protective gear receives bags with goods from a delivery driver during the newest lockdown measures imposed in Shanghai’s Jing'an district on March 31, 2022. (Image: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

In their desperate bid to control the growing outbreak of COVID-19, Shanghai authorities have enacted the most extensive lockdown measures since the pandemic first started in Wuhan over two years ago. 

The situation has gotten to the point where the government of China’s largest city has deployed a special militia as part of its attempts to quell the virus. 

Known as the financial capital of China, Shanghai is home to over 26 million residents and has been placed into a two-part lockdown starting on March 28. As more questions are raised over the financial and economic toll the nation’s stringent “Zero-COVID” measures are taking, frustrated Shanghai residents have taken to the streets to protest the prolonged lockdowns.


COVID militia

A March 29 document on the mobilization of the militia force, formed to maintain social order in the historic district of Puxi, was widely circulated by netizens on social media. 

A netizen who wrote on Weibo (China’s Twitter-like app) said in a post on March 29 that Shanghai authorities had likely already mobilized the militia. 

“The militia are probably responsible for maintaining and controlling the lockdown.” 

Screengrabs of videos posted by netizens on social media show task force members with a piece of paper written on their backs reading: “Militia of Yangpu” or “Militia of Hongkou.”

China’s unyielding COVID regulations have resulted in violence and tragedy many times as residents are sometimes arrested or even beaten if they are found to be breaking quarantine. Local authorities across the country have also stringently upheld orders which have included disinfection theatrics, draconian lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions.

Task force members with “Militia of Yangpu” written on their backs. (Image: via Weibo)
In this video, the task force appears to be moving a patient in a makeshift COVID-19 hospital. (Video via Twitter)
Militia members with the words “Militia of Hongkou” written on their backs walking in the street of Shanghai. (Image: via Weibo)

Shanghai on the cusp of chaos

Over the past week, Shanghai reported more than 20,000 positive cases of COVID-19 — with over 5,000 new infections in a single day. Videos and pictures posted on social media show that Shanghai authorities have mobilized a “militia” in order to uphold order during the lockdowns. 

According to the Chinese National Health Commission website, as of March 30, Shanghai reported 5,982 new positive cases in a single day. In just one week from March 23rd to the 29th, Shanghai had confirmed 21,495 new infections. 

However, the number of coronavirus cases and deaths reported by Chinese authorities since the beginning of the pandemic in late 2019 is considered a tiny fraction of the real figures, with Beijing admitting to just over 100,000 nationwide cases prior to the current surge. 

Due to the rapid rise in new infections, local governments started locking down entire districts starting on March 28 across several cities in China. Supermarkets in Shanghai reported panic-buying over the weekend as terrified residents cleared shelves of food, beverages and household items. Additional barriers were also being erected across several neighborhoods, with officials in hazmat suits checking residents at security checkpoints.

Shoppers rummage through empty shelves in a supermarket in Shanghai on March 29, 2022. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Shanghai residents protest: ‘We want freedom’ 

Another video posted on March 29 shows residents in the Minhang District of Shanghai protesting in the streets. The group shouted slogans: “We want to eat!” “We want to go to work!” and “We want freedom” repeating the phrases after one person holding a loudspeaker.

Shanghai’s citywide lockdown was conducted in two phases, the local government said in a notice released on March 27. The city’s Pudong financial district and nearby areas have been placed into lockdown starting March 28 to April 1. Authorities said the restrictive measures are in place so as to allow health workers to conduct at least two rounds of mass testing. 

In the second phase of the lockdown, the vast downtown area west of the Huangpu River that divides the city will start its own five-day lockdown lasting from April 1 to April 5.

Under the new restrictions, residents will not be allowed to leave their residential compounds and were told that food and essentials will be delivered to their homes. Businesses and firms that are not considered essential have been ordered to close until further notice and all public transportation will be suspended.