EXPLAINER: How China is using metal barriers to fight COVID

Several Shanghai neighborhoods erected metal barriers last weekend as part of the city’s battle against a COVID-19 outbreak, in a move that sparked protests and anger from some residents.

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Several neighborhoods in Shanghai erected metal barriers last weekend as part of the city’s battle against a COVID-19 outbreak, in a move that sparked protests and anger from some residents.

Workers dressed in head-to-toe white protective gear erected wire mesh fencing and metal sheets to block roads, residential communities and even entrances to some apartment buildings. The majority of the city’s 25 million residents had already been barred from leaving their homes during a month-long lockdown, although some neighborhoods have since opened up.

Barriers are deployed to provide movement control and often leave only a small entrance that can be easily guarded.


The barriers are new to Shanghai but have been rolled out throughout the pandemic in other cities across China. For example, in early 2020, some neighborhood committees – the lowest tier of local government – ​​erected metal sheets and fences in parts of Beijing to control access points to homes. Wuhan, where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in December 2019, has also erected metal barriers across the city.

How they were deployed varies. Sometimes the government puts up fences around entire city blocks, leaving only one or two entrances. In other cases, they build fences in front of individual residential complexes.

The fence has also been widely deployed in border regions, including Suifenhe, a northeastern city that borders Russia. Metal barriers block entire streets there.


Shanghai hadn’t erected large-scale metal barriers in the last two years of the pandemic, boasting of more targeted measures that didn’t rely on lockdowns. This changed in the last outbreak, which is caused by the highly transmissible omicron BA.2 variant. Central authorities imposed a citywide lockdown that prevented people from even setting a “foot outside”, according to a widely publicized slogan.

Many Shanghai residents were upset with barriers blocking entrances to their apartment buildings, and some angry citizens posted videos online showing protests. In video verified by the AP, residents leaving a building in Shanghai’s Xuhui district smashed through a wire mesh barricade at the main entrance and angrily went for the security guard they believed was responsible for having him. erected.

Shanghai uses a tiered system in which neighborhoods are divided into three categories based on transmission risk. Those in the first category face the strictest COVID-19 controls and are the main target of the barriers.

However, some neighborhood officials in Shanghai have erected barriers in areas that are not in the strictest category. A resident called the police to protest the closure of roads near his building, saying his residence did not fall into the first category. He and two other residents of his building complex tried to stop the workers from erecting the metal barriers, but they were stopped by a neighborhood committee worker. The police officer told the residents that they were not allowed to leave the apartment, according to the man’s account, which he posted on WeChat.

“This deep, deep sense of helplessness. Who can tell me: Is there hope for this place? he wrote. He declined to be named.


In some cases, residents have succeeded in protesting.

In an apartment complex in Shanghai’s Putuo district, residents protested violently after the residential committee put a U-lock on their building’s door on April 16.

“It was very sudden, without any warning, and it wasn’t just the building. Every place was blocked below. It blocked any escape routes,” said a Shanghai resident who asked to be identified only by her surname, Zhang. “If there was an accident or a fire, everyone would die.”

Residents of the building called the police and the city hotline. The residential committee relented and put duct tape on the door instead, but warned residents that destroying the tape would result in legal consequences, according to a notice the committee sent to residents that Zhang showed to the public. PA.

In Beijing, many barriers have been removed after the city remained without a major outbreak for the past two years. Now, however, residential compounds with positive cases are boarded up again.


Associated Press researcher Chen Si contributed to this report from Shanghai.

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