As of April 29, 2022, a woman that had spent the last weeks living in a red telephone booth with her dog in the streets of Shanghai has been evicted by the police.
A few weeks ago, the Shanghai government ordered another Covid-19 lockdown to help suppress the outbreak. However, the city’s bustling 26 million residents, many struggled to survive the harsh restrictions and enforcement actions the government imposed.
In fact, the widespread food shortages, labour shortages, and the high rent of living in Shanghai led many to the streets.
This woman, identified as a migrant worker in her 50s, had to turn to live in a telephone booth in order to make it through. Apparently, she had ‘moved in’ back in January.
The woman was eventually noticed by residents in high-rise apartments across the street, and documentation and photographs of her existence started making the rounds on Chinese social media. The WeChat photo diary published on this woman’s life in the telephone booth was later published in Esquire China, attracting greater attention. The public responded enraged, as she was documented taking her small dog on strolls, or airing out her blanket in the sun, considering that these are the dire consequences to make a living in Shanghai during Covid.
The publication of this woman’s hardship has highlighted necessary conversations about the deep-rooted economic inequality that is present in the city’s pandemic responses.
She was among many migrant workers that became unemployed as soon as the lockdown was proclaimed, and rents continued. Luckily for her, she was able to find a place to make her own under the roof of the phone booth, whilst others in her similar economic condition were left to sleep on cardboards, in parking lots, or make do with what they could under bridges and in tents on sidewalks.
Migrant workers make up a third of China’s workforce, and they have been discarded most severely in regard to financial protection from the pandemic’s consequences. The continuous resurgence of lockdowns slowed China’s economic growth and yearly potential, sinking its manufacturing output to the lowest point in recent years. Dependent on temporary gigs, working in local shops or restaurants, and factories, that have all been closed due to the pandemic, migrant workers are left to fend for themselves. In accordance with a report by the China Labour Bulletin, millions of migrant workers were fired due to the pandemic’s lockdowns.
Last week, the 29 April 2022, police officers arrived at the woman’s phone booth. At midnight, they tapped on the glass and evicted her. They tossed her belongings on the sidewalk and sealed the booth shut with tape. The woman and her dog left barefoot.
Allegedly, state-run China Youth Daily, reports that the authorities offered her accommodation, but she preferred to be left to her own devices. However, what honestly went down during the transaction, has not been disclosed.
It is clear the authorities’ main priorities in Shanghai are to control the pandemic and the spread of the virus, not necessarily the workers that suffer due to the economic freeze it has caused. Some Shanghai residents have thus had to take it upon themselves to help rough sleepers and fired workers around the city, providing shelter or distributing essential supplies.
As of Monday, there has been some ease on the volunteers as authorities have increased the number of people dwelling on the streets that they can provide accommodation for. The problem is, that the government cannot stop at the first sign of help, because indeed it is the government’s responsibility to handle the consequences of the pandemic’s containment measures. It is their legal duty to care for those left on the streets, and people should not have to sacrifice their ways of living to be able to have this guarantee.
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