By Brenda Goh
SHANGHAI – To prepare the 3,000-plus orders of vegetables, meat and essentials her Carrefour supermarket sends out every day to locked-in Shanghai residents, manager Zhang Wei wakes at 5 a.m. after a night in a sleeping bag on her office floor.
Zhang and 43 colleagues have been hunkered down inside the store in Shanghai’s western Xujing suburb since April 1, isolated from the outside world while working long days to fill online orders from neighbouring housing compounds.
Her Carrefour branch is one of more than 1,000 grocery stores open during Shanghai’s lockdown, albeit under stringent requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The city government is trying to increase the number of stores open.
“There’s no time to rest, we’re busy all day, even during meals if the neighbourhood committee members turn up to pick up orders, or has a request, we will assist them immediately,” Zhang, told Reuters by video call, shortly before bedding down in her office after a 19-hour workday for a brief night’s sleep.
Shanghai locked virtually all of its 25 million residents into their homes at the start of April after COVID cases began to surge.
Businesses, from factories to financial services firms, can remain open only under “closed loop management”, which entails living on site, disinfecting premises and products every few hours, and testing negative for the coronavirus every day, as China tries to eliminate all COVID transmission.
Shanghai is sticking with “closed loop” openings even as new case numbers trend down and it encourages more businesses, especially those in food service, to reopen – an arrangement that has limitations, since many workers are unable to leave their families and supply chains are disrupted.
At Zhang’s Carrefour, fewer than half of its usual 110 staff members are currently working. It may be able to bring in more staff, or replace some workers soon due to the recent easing of some movement curbs, but there remains little clarity over when the city’s lockdown will end and how much longer Zhang and her staff must sleep at the store.
More than half of Carrefour’s 30 stores in Shanghai are open for online orders. The chain, which in China is majority owned by electronics retailer Suning.Com, hopes to have most of the others open by Saturday.
Difficulty getting food has been the biggest complaint among Shanghai residents, most of them locked down for at least three weeks and counting, though the situation is improving gradually as more stores open and more couriers take to the streets.
As the weeks pass, Zhang has noticed an increase in demand for necessities such as baby milk powder and adult diapers.
Zhang, who joined Carrefour 16 years ago in the southwestern province of Yunnan, said that despite the long hours, staff remained upbeat and saw their work as a social responsibility.
Zhang, 38, and her team spend their days talking with neighbourhood officials about the items residents want, packing goods for officials to collect and distribute in an area where roughly 210,000 people live.
Each staff member has their own sleeping nook in the three-level store, with some sleeping in tents for privacy. Carrefour has provided them with protective gear such as hazmat suits, and doubled their wages.
Fortunately, there are showers.
“We’ve watched spring turn into summer,” said Zhang, who plans to return to Yunnan to visit her parents once the lockdown is over, whenever that may be.
“But I will definitely stay until the end, no matter when the epidemic ends,” she said.