The recent COVID-19 outbreak has frayed nerves 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 prolonged 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-19, 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 center 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 overstretched staff.

He even helped organize halal food for Muslims.

“You have to bring in some modern management skills to make things more efficient and make life easier,” Li remarked.

Shanghai has become the epicenter of China’s largest outbreak since 2020. Under the country’s dynamic zero-COVID approach, everyone who tests positive, and their close contacts, must quarantine at designated sites.

Shanghai has been on a citywide lockdown since April to stop the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus.

‘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 American 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 neighbors at home and everyone struggling to order food, Vera saw an opportunity to improve the situation for all.

She approached neighbors through the messaging service WeChat to collect orders and then loaded them onto 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 pointed out.

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, the country’s most populous city has nearly 6 million people aged 60 or older, accounting for about 23 percent 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 (US$98,000), the campaign eventually secured nearly 870,000 yuan and provided food for a week for more than 4,000 elderly people in Shanghai.

The city has cut off community transmission of the coronavirus and announced plans to exit the lockdown gradually, eyeing a return to normal life and work next month.

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