Shanghai residents leverage Excel skills, management savvy to navigate lockdown

·4 min read

By Julie Zhu and Engen Tham

HONG KONG/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's worst COVID-19 outbreak has frayed nerves and stirred resentment among many residents of Shanghai but some have thrived in the face of adversity, stepping up with bright ideas and commitment to help their communities through the crisis.

Not surprisingly, many such people have used the skills they developed in their jobs to help others navigate the frightening new world of forced quarantine and lockdowns that no one dreamed of before COVID.

Li Di, a senior executive with a global bank, knew he had to help when he was admitted to the Nanhui quarantine site in April, after testing positive for COVID, and was confronted by chaos.

"There were only 120 to 150 staff to take care of 10,000 patients. The staff literally had their hands full," said Li.

Li set up a team of more than a dozen volunteers to arrange meals, distribute various supplies and help elderly patients who were struggling with various quarantine centre requirements.

He also set up a more efficient way for people in quarantine to communicate with staff, which helped to streamline the process for the compulsory testing of the 400 people in his building, cutting the time it took from three hours to just one, to the approval of over-stretched staff.

He even helped organise halal food for Muslims.

"You have to bring in some modern management skills to make things more efficient and make life easier," Li said.

Shanghai has become the epicentre of China's largest outbreak since the virus was first identified in the city of Wuhan in late 2019. Under China's zero-COVID policy, everyone who tests positive, and their close contacts, must quarantine at designated sites.

Videos on social media have shown hastily arranged quarantine centres across the city, including one made of shipping containers and one at a school with no blankets or hot water.

The huge majority of Shanghai residents who have dodged COVID have not escaped the ordeal of lockdown.

People ordered to stay at home in their flats have struggled to get fresh food and other essential items as the restrictions have shut shops and exposed a huge shortage of delivery staff.

'WORKING LIKE A TRADER'

The last thing tech-savvy banker Vera expected was to take charge of bulk-buying for her housing compound. But within days of lockdown, Vera, who works for a large U.S. house in Shanghai and asked that her family name not be used, had taken on the job, known as "tuanzhang" in Chinese.

Trapped with 1,000 neighbours at home and everyone struggling to order food, Vera saw an opportunity to improve the situation for all.

She approached neighbours through the messaging service WeChat to collect orders and then loaded them into Excel spreadsheets for bulk buying.

"I've been working like a trader as I have to monitor a number of screens and loads of new messages at the same time," said Vera, who usually ends up checking orders and communicating with suppliers and delivery services late into the night.

Shirley, a mergers and acquisition banker in Shanghai, said apart from good Excel skills, a strong social network, just like in the real world of business, can be a crucial asset for getting through lockdown.

She was able to use connections she made at work to get in touch with several major suppliers including online grocery firm Missfresh and household brand China Mengniu Dairy and arrange bulk-buying.

"You really need good connections," she said.

Sun Chuan, a Shanghai-based partner at a global law firm, helped raise donations for the elderly as part of a campaign a Peking University alumni association helped launch.

According to official data, China's most-populous city has nearly 6 million people aged 60 or older, accounting for about 23% of the population. Many live alone and struggle with online shopping.

Sun called on friends via WeChat to join the campaign and his post quickly spread.

"At first, most donors were my friends but later many others I don't know at all donated. I was deeply touched by their kindness," Sun said.

Initially aiming to raise 660,000 yuan ($97,350), the campaign eventually secured nearly 870,000 yuan and provided food for a week for more than 4,000 older people in Shanghai.

($1 = 6.7796 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Engen Tham in Shanghai; Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee, Robert Birsel)

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