Barricaded storefronts and a makeshift hair salon in an empty swimming pool greeted her on a surreal foray into a Chinese commercial capital that has come back to life after lockdown.
A few convenience stores near her home had reopened, but they blocked their entrances with piles of shopping baskets and forced customers to “stand outside and shout their orders,” she told AFP.
“Everyone has been through a lot during this time,” she added.
The country’s largest city ordered its entire population of 25 million to stay at home last month, sparking panic buying and clashes between residents and police.
Facing the worst virus outbreak in the country in two years, Shanghai doubled down on the Communist Party’s relentless zero-covid approach as more than 420,000 infections were discovered and a heavy toll was imposed on business and morale.
But as the daily infections wear off, city officials have begun to let some residents out of their homes, pushing factories to resume operations even as workers on site have to sleep.
Twelve million people were told in the past two weeks that they were no longer confined to their apartments and could now walk down or even out of their housing complex, depending on the level of risk in their area.
But any excitement over this newfound freedom has been tempered by labyrinthine restrictions that continue to restrict movement, while large areas of the city remain dormant or risk returning to a strict lockdown.
Videos posted on social media by Shanghai residents this week showed empty, tree-lined avenues, punctuated by the occasional delivery scooter or health worker fit for hazardous materials.
“I can’t leave my neighborhood, but it’s enough,” one social media user wrote on the Instagram-esque Xiaohongshu app.
Others celebrated with solo dance videos, filmed in what would normally be hectic shopping streets.
Dan, an American living in Jing’an district who refused to give his full name, said the scene after he was freed from his apartment complex last week was “very dystopian.”
Spring flowers had bloomed all over the city and “everything looks very pristine,” he told AFP.
But police at checkpoints stopped him to verify he was coming from a lower-risk compound, something he likened to being treated “as if you were a criminal, even if you’re allowed to get out”.
His freedom was short-lived. His district ordered all residents to return home on Thursday — a turnaround well-documented in the complaints of Shanghaiers on social media.
In some neighborhoods, people found they were limited to one one-way trip per day, even after the council said they could move freely. Others were stuck at home despite being in the lowest risk category.
Dan said the lack of clarity from authorities was “very frustrating”.
“They are issuing these lists (of areas with relaxed lockdowns) so that they can say, ‘Things are getting better, they are under control’, while at the same time limiting and contradicting the policies they are promulgating themselves,” he told AFP.