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A couple describes returning to the streets of Shanghai after 2-month COVID lockdown

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For two kids in Shanghai, the end of more than two months of COVID lockdowns meant a treat.

HA CHUONG: Oh, look. Whoo (ph) (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Shouting and clapping) Yea. Yea. Yea.

CHUONG: Yea, they have marshmallows.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Shouting and clapping) Yea. Yea. Yea, marshmallows.

CHUONG: (Laughter) Yea. OK, how many do you want?

KELLY: And where there are marshmallows, there is the possibility of Rice Krispie (ph) Treats, especially if you have a surplus of Rice Krispies.

CHUONG: When we were in lockdown, the only way to get food at that time was we had to combine with all the residents in our compound into these group buys. So our kids love cereal, and, for whatever reason, it was incredibly hard to get cereal. We had to order, basically, like, a whole, like, container full of Rice Krispies, and the kids had been eating this throughout lockdown.

KELLY: That is Ha Chuong. She and her husband, Nadav Davidai, and their kids had been holed up in their apartment in one tower of a giant complex called The Summit. We talked to them on the show a month ago, and we called them back today, the day Shanghai - a city of nearly 25 million people - was officially released from lockdown. By special request - the kids - they hit the shops.

CHUONG: So then at lunch, we ventured out - outside of our building - to go shopping.

KELLY: So what did the city feel like, just walking around on the streets?

CHUONG: It honestly felt unreal. So a couple of days before - so on Saturday, we had gotten a medical pass to leave the compound to go get our vaccinations. And, you know, this pass was gold because, you know, you can go out for as long as you want, and you can drive. And so we went out and we got our vaccines, and then after the vaccines, we thought, OK, let's drive around. And the city of 25 million people, where usually the streets are bustling, was completely empty. And we were, like, one of the only ones on the street.

And then you contrast that - so that was on Saturday - with today, and it was like nothing had happened (laughter). Like, all these cars and these scooters and these people were out on the street, and the city was feeling alive again.

KELLY: Yeah. I'm thinking about the impact of two months of offices being shut, of businesses being shut, of international flights being canceled. What is the conversation about the economic toll of all this?

NADAV DAVIDAI: It's going to take a really long time to figure all of this out and the true impact to it. The scale of it is kind of mind-boggling. In fact, I mean, just to give you a personalized example, we ordered things from Taobao - like an Amazon equivalent here, right? And we ordered them in mid-March, and they arrived, you know, a few days ago. And you just multiply that not only across the city, but then, you know, all the ports and the backflows and everything like that that went to other places in China. And, yeah, it's something that's going to take a while to sort out for sure.

KELLY: Now, the last time we spoke with Ha and Nadav, the link to the interview was censored within hours of being posted to Chinese social media. I asked Nadav if he thought he was getting reliable information about COVID from China's government. He declined to answer that. He did say that, on his morning walk, he was surprised to find the gate to The Summit apartments flung wide open.

This is the gate to your whole building compound - out into the world?

DAVIDAI: Right.

KELLY: Right.

CHUONG: Yes.

KELLY: All right.

DAVIDAI: Right, right, right - which was literally locked, you know, for a period of time and access controlled very closely, even up to a few days ago.

CHUONG: It was interesting because, you know, when we were eventually let out of our apartments and able to use the grounds of the compound - honestly a really good time because we were hanging out with our neighbors, and the kids were playing in the gardens, and we didn't have to worry about them because they couldn't leave the compound. But now, today, the gates were open, and the first thing I thought of was, oh, my goodness - I have to keep an eye on the kids now. And I kind of almost felt like I wish (laughter) it could go back to, you know, the gates being closed and having that plus being able to go outside and have the, you know, ability to, you know, shop again and have those freedoms again.

KELLY: Their neighbors are already nervous about the next variant, the next lockdown. But they said, today, everyone was just trying to enjoy the moment. And if there is a silver lining of lockdown, it's that they got to know their neighbors so much better.

DAVIDAI: Ha and I - we went and we walked around the neighborhood, and it was novel and it was nice. But the end of the day, we came back into the compound that we've been locked in for two months and had drinks with people in the garden, in the compound, you know? And the other thing is, the guards and the cleaners and the people who worked here - they got locked in with us as well, right? And we were in our apartments, and we had our family. They didn't. They were on their own, and they didn't have, you know, their usual place to sleep. And when Ha and I came back this evening, we saw one of those guards getting on his scooter and leaving, you know? First time in 60 days, he just - he went out of the gate and presumably went home, but he had this smile on his face, and it was pretty amazing.

KELLY: Wow. We have been speaking with Ha Chuong and Nadav Davidai, speaking with us from Shanghai on the first day of the official end of a two-month-long COVID lockdown. Thanks so much. Good luck to you both as you figure out what the world looks like now.

DAVIDAI: Thanks.

CHUONG: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.