BEIJING (AP) — Residents of Shanghai are struggling to get meat, rice and other food items under anti-coronavirus lockdowns that confine most of its 25 million people to their homes, fueling frustration as as the government tries to contain a spreading epidemic.

Residents of China’s business capital complain that online grocery stores are often sold out. Some received government food parcels containing meat and vegetables for a few days. But without knowing when they will be allowed out, anxiety mounts.

Zhang Yu, 33, said her family of eight ate three meals a day but cut down on noodles for lunch. They received no government supplies.

“It’s not easy to keep going like this,” said Zhang, who starts shopping online at 7 a.m.

“We read on the news that there was (food), but we just can’t buy it,” she said. “As soon as you go to the grocery app, it says today’s orders are filled.”

The complaints are embarrassing for the ruling Communist Party in a politically sensitive year in which President Xi Jinping is expected to try to break with tradition and give himself a third five-year term in office.

Shanghai shines a light on the skyrocketing human and economic cost of China’s “zero-COVID” strategy of isolating every infected person.

On Thursday, the government reported 23,107 new cases nationwide, of which all but 1,323 had no symptoms. This included 19,989 in Shanghai, where only 329 had symptoms.

Complaints about food shortages began after Shanghai shut down parts of the city on March 28.

Plans called for four-day neighborhood closures while residents were tested. It turned into an indefinite citywide shutdown after the number of cases soared. Shoppers who received little warning stripped supermarket shelves.

City officials publicly apologized last week and promised to improve food supplies.

Officials say Shanghai, home to the world’s busiest port and China’s main stock exchange, has enough food. But a deputy mayor, Chen Tong, acknowledged Thursday that getting the “last 100 meters” to households is a challenge.

“Shanghai’s battle against the epidemic has reached the most critical moment,” Chen told a news conference, according to state media. He said officials “must make every effort to provide food for the city’s 25 million people”.

At the same event, a vice president of Meituan, China’s largest food delivery platform, blamed a shortage of staff and vehicles, according to a transcript released by the company. Executive Mao Fang said Meituan had moved automated delivery vehicles and nearly 1,000 additional staff to Shanghai.

Another online grocer, Dingdong, said it moved 500 staff to Shanghai from other posts to make deliveries.

Li Xiaoliang, an employee of a courier company, complained that the government is neglecting people living in hotels. He said he shared a room with two colleagues after positive cases were found near his rented house.

Li, 30, said they had brought instant noodles but there were none left. Now they eat one meal a day of 40 yuan ($6) lunch boxes ordered at the front desk, but sometimes the seller does not deliver. On Thursday, Li said he only had water all day.

The local government office “made it clear that they didn’t care about who was staying at the hotel and left us to find our own way,” Li said. supplies, food.”

After residents of a Shanghai apartment complex stood on their balconies to sing in a possible protest this week, a drone flew overhead and broadcast the message: ‘Control the soul’s desire for freedom and don’t don’t open the window to sing. This behavior risks spreading the epidemic.

The government says it is trying to reduce the impact of its tactics, but authorities are still imposing restrictions that also block access to the industrial cities of Changchun and Jilin with millions of residents in the northeast.

While Shanghai port officials say operations are normal, the president of the city’s chapter of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, Bettina Schoen-Behanzin, said her member companies believe the volume of cargo handled has dropped by 40%.

Some large factories and financial companies make their employees sleep on the job to keep them running. But Schoen-Behanzin said that with no timetable for ending the shutdowns, “some workers are no longer volunteering.”

Residents of small towns have also been temporarily confined to their homes this year as Chinese authorities try to contain outbreaks.

In 2020, access to cities with a total population of 60 million was suspended in an unprecedented attempt to contain the outbreak. The ruling party has organized vast supply networks to bring in food.

A resident of Minhang district, west of Shanghai, who asked to be identified only by her last name, Chen, said her household of five received food parcels from the government on March 30 and April 4. . They included chicken, eggplant, carrots, broccoli and potatoes. .

Now vegetables are available online, but meat, fish and eggs are hard to find, Chen said. She joined a neighborhood “shopping club”. Minimum orders are 3,000 yuan ($500), “so you need other people,” she said.

“Everyone is organizing to order food, because we can’t rely on the government to send it to us,” Chen said. “They are unreliable.”

A message from a viewer of an online press conference from the city’s health office challenged officials: “Drop the script! Please tell the leaders to buy vegetables by mobile phone on the spot.

Gregory Gao, an operations specialist for an automaker who lives alone in the downtown district of Yangpu, said only Meituan remained after food vendors announced the closure of supply sites in the city. region.

“I can’t get anything for two or three days in a row,” Gao, 29, said.

Zhang said some of her neighbors had run out of rice.

“The government told us at the beginning that it would be four days,” she said. “A lot of people were unprepared.”

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AP researchers Chen Si in Shanghai and Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.