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‘Control Your Soul’s Desire for Freedom’: Authorities Use Drones to Keep Desperate Shanghai Residents Confined to Their Homes

Leo Timm covers China-related news, culture, and history. Follow him on Twitter at @kunlunpeaks
Published: April 11, 2022
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A guard, wearing personal protective gear, receives goods from a delivery worker in a compound during a COVID-19 lockdown in the Jing'an district in Shanghai on April 8, 2022. (Image: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

The lockdown of China’ largest city and most important financial center has gone on for two weeks, leaving many without reliable access to food and other necessities. Despite this, Communist Party authorities have not let up in their heavy-handed implementation of “zero-COVID” policies in Shanghai. 

Videos uploaded to social media show a nighttime din sounding throughout residential communities as people across Shanghai, stuck in isolation and with supplies dwindling, have taken to shouting and singing out of their windows for help and emotional release. 

In one video, posted to Weibo in the evening of April 5, a drone can be heard in the night broadcasting a public announcement to the city’s residents. 

“Please comply with COVID restrictions. Control your soul’s desire for freedom. Do not open the window or sing,” the automated female voice says.

The recent outbreak in Shanghai has already racked up more cases than all of those officially acknowledged in the rest of China since the beginning of the pandemic.  

According to an April 9 announcement by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Health and Welfare Commission, there were more than 25,000 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationwide on April 8, the vast majority of which were asymptomatic and occurred in Shanghai. 

Up until the outbreak in Shanghai, the PRC authorities only acknowledged about 100,000 cases across mainland China, with about half being registered in and around the city of Wuhan, where the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 first appeared.

More than 250,000 cases have been recorded in Shanghai since late March. Official PRC pandemic statistics are widely believed to be a vast understatement, with the true COVID cases and deaths likely being in the seven- or eight-digit range.

The military-run Liberation Daily reported earlier that the Chinese military deployed more than 2,000 soldiers to Shanghai on April 3 to help the municipal authorities with epidemic prevention work. 

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According to various other PRC media reports, tens of thousands of military and medical personnel from more than 10 Chinese provinces have been sent to Shanghai. 

Many netizens have expressed worries that the increasing military presence in Shanghai is not to actually control the pandemic, but to “maintain stability,” and, if need be, crack down on desperate residents. 

One video, posted April 10, shows a tracked military vehicle armed with what appears to be anti-aircraft cannons. This type of weapon is also effective against unarmored ground targets, such as masses of infantry or civilians.  

In scenes that have played out in previously locked-down cities across China, many Shanghai residents have been recorded pleading with officials for food, access to hospitals, and other services disrupted by the zero-COVID policy. Shanghai has been locked down since March 28. 

One phone exchange between a Shanghai man and a local CDC official went viral in late March and was listened to at least 140 million times. In the conversation, the CDC official admitted that the epidemic prevention system had already been stretched beyond its limits, but that there was nothing she could do.

In another video, a desperate man speaking to a police officer was told that not only was there no food left in the supermarkets, but that even the police were running low. Unconfirmed reports claim that in some communities, officers have fired warning shots to scare off crowds.