Hunter McGregor describes his family experience of Shanghai’s latest lockdown.

When China does lockdowns, everyone must stay home. Hunter McGregor describes his family experience of Shanghai’s latest lockdown.

Locked down inside a 20th floor apartment building in downtown Shanghai is not much fun, especially with a couple of young kids. On top of this it was a huge challenge to purchase food at the start of the latest lockdown.

Being worried about the food supply is one thing I didn’t think would happen in a modern city like Shanghai. We have been lucky as we did not run out of food but the food supply has been a bigger issue for many Shanghai residents.

This is Shanghai’s first full lockdown since the initial Covid-19 lockdown in early 2020. A full lockdown in China means just that. No leaving your apartment building at all. This time all shops (including food suppliers and all deliveries) were closed.

It started as an initial “four-day” city-wide lockdown and more than two months later it is still going without an end in sight.

In mid-March and for the first time ever in 15 years, I started to see logistics issues with some items in supermarkets.

There was some panic buying late March and full lockdown started April 1 for many. Our building lockdown occurred a few days earlier than that. The panic buying focus was not on toilet paper, but dairy products, meat, fruit and vegetables.

Luckily I did panic buy some British butter as usual supermarkets had run out of Fonterra butter and cheese, well before April 1.

With all the standard places to buy food – supermarkets, wet markets, online shops all closed, buying food became a major issue and challenge for everyone. The only way to get food during the early stages of the lockdown was by buildings and apartment complexes getting together and organising group buying, which is a large quantity of food.

The larger distributors, who usually supplied the retailers, were able to deliver in large trucks. There had to be a large volume or high value of orders for them to deliver. This is a very inefficient way to do things but many people, locked down, had the time to organise this. Also the quantity of food items were a lot larger than they normally would buy, so storage became an issue for some products.

Our refrigerator and freezer space is very limited, as in most Chinese kitchens. Storage space in general is limited within apartment buildings. We always make tradeoffs with products in “normal” times. We always use milk powder – Fonterra’s 1kg whole milk powder is our go-to option, instead of fresh milk. This means we free-up refrigerator space.

Our chilled storage space is now used for fresh vegetables and fruits. Our milk powder supply has now been used up, and we have moved to UHT dairy products.

UHT milk and yogurt are enormous markets in China and the range of products available always seems to be growing. Without needing to be refrigerated it’s the ideal product when supply chains are having issues. We would always buy about four times as much as anyone else in our building when there was a UHT milk or yogurt group order. Many people in the building found that a bit strange, but with a couple of young growing kids, you can never have too many dairy products available.