Today CNN published a story about the ongoing COVID lockdowns in China. This one focuses on the author’s elderly father who lived through Mao’s famines but who is now stuck in Shanghai and on the verge of running out of food.

When my 73-year-old father raised concern about his shrinking food supply late last week, the catastrophe brought by Shanghai’s citywide Covid lockdown suddenly hit home.

“Will be running out in a few days if no government handout soon,” he messaged me Thursday…

Even during the darkest days in Mao’s China, my parents — Shanghai-born and bred — used to remind me that, unlike many in the countryside, they were fortunate enough not to fear the prospect of starvation.

Now, with lockdown measures turning increasingly draconian, a once almost-unthinkable topic has struck a chord with residents in the city and beyond, more so than anything else: people going hungry in Shanghai in 2022.

Because people aren’t allowed to leave their apartments except to gather food that has been delivered, they are dependent on technology for staying alive. But as the author found out, the equivalent of panic buying has set in and that means even with the right app, there’s no guarantee you’ll get any food.

Armed with a membership for a retail warehouse club — presumably allowing me to face less stiff competition than those using a general online grocer — I quickly realized it was impossible to grab one of the coveted delivery slots, which are assigned at 9 p.m. daily, even with food still available on the virtual shelves.

The retailer’s app simply crashed each night — and would only come back online a few hours later with a glaring “no more delivery slots for the day” message.

He eventually found a “boutique” retailer that was able to deliver vegetables and eggs at an inflated price. Will the food last longer than the lockdown? The story notes the lockdown for his father’s complex is scheduled to end on May 2, but there’s no guarantee that will happen. If additional cases pop up that could be extended by 14 days.

Shanghai is a city of 25 million people but that’s only a small fraction of the people currently under lockdown in China. A few days ago the NY Times pointed to an estimate that the total number was 373 million, about 1/3 of China’s entire population.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been sent to isolation facilities in China, and millions more have been told to stay in their homes. Officials in dozens of cities have shut down normal daily life across the country in a race to track and trace the coronavirus and stamp out China’s worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic.

The Japanese bank Nomura has estimated that 373 million people in 45 Chinese cities are under some kind of lockdown, about a third of the population and accounting for the equivalent of around $7.2 trillion in annual gross domestic product.

But among those millions of people there seems to be a dawning sense that the government is lying to them:

With state media headlines screaming “it’s not the flu!” against government statistics showing only about two dozen severe cases among the infected in Shanghai so far, nearly everyone seems to agree on the apparent absurdity of “the solution being worse than the problem” — particularly as stories surface on social media about deaths relating to those unable to receive medical care for non-Covid causes due to the lockdown.

It’s a pretty simple equation. The Chinese government claims it needs total control over everyone so the Communist Party can manage things optimally. But residents are seeing up close that total control and optimal management of resources don’t go hand in hand. The government could mandate you remain in your apartment and you could starve complying with that mandate.

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