Locked-in Wuhan residents adapt to find food

Photo: AFP

Closing off communities has split the city into silos, with different neighbourhoods rolling out controls of varying intensity.

In some compounds, residents have easier access to food - albeit a smaller selection than normal - and one woman said her family pays delivery drivers to run grocery errands.

Her compound has not been sealed off either, the 24-year-old told AFP under condition of anonymity, though they are limited to one person leaving at a time.

Some districts have implemented their own rules, such as prohibiting supermarkets from selling to individuals, forcing neighbourhoods to buy in bulk or not at all.

"In the neighbourhood where I live, the reality is really terrible," said David Dai, who is based on the outskirts of Wuhan.

Though his apartment complex has organised group-buying, Dai said residents were unhappy with price and quality.

"A lot of tomatoes, a lot of onions - they were already rotten," he told AFP, estimating over a third of the food had to be thrown away.

His family must "totally depend" on themselves, added the 49-year-old, who has resorted to saving and drying turnip skins to add nutrients to future meals.

The uncertainty of not knowing when the controls will be lifted is also frustrating, said Ma Chen, a man in his 30s who lives alone.

"I have no way of knowing how much (food) I should buy."
Demand for group-buying food delivery services has rocketed with the new restrictions, with supermarkets and neighbourhood committees scrambling to fill orders.

Most group-buying services operate through Chinese messaging app WeChat, which has ad-hoc chat groups for meat, vegetables, milk - even "hot dry noodles", a famous Wuhan dish.

More sophisticated shops and compounds have their own mini-app inside WeChat, where residents can choose packages priced by weight before orders are sent in bulk to grocery stores.

In Guo's neighbourhood, for instance, a 6.5-kilogramme (14.3-pound) set of five vegetables, including potatoes and baby cabbage, costs 50 yuan ($7.11).

"You have no way to choose what you like to eat," Guo said. "You cannot have personal preferences anymore."

The group-buying model is also more difficult for smaller communities to adopt, as supermarkets have minimum order requirements for delivery.

"To be honest, there's nothing we can do," said Yang Nan, manager of Lao Cun Zhang supermarket, which requires a minimum of 30 orders.

"We only have four cars," she said, explaining that the store did not have the staff to handle smaller orders.

Another supermarket told AFP it capped its daily delivery load to 1,000 orders per day.

"Hiring staff is difficult," said Wang Xiuwen, who works at the store's logistics division, adding that they are wary about hiring too many outsiders for fear of infection.

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