Australians leave expat life in Shanghai due to harsh COVID lockdown measures
By Nicole Gong
Posted 20h ago
Vivian breathed a sigh of relief when her family’s flight from Shanghai touched down in Sydney last month.
Their arrival marked the end of a long journey for the 34-year-old, her husband and their two children, who left the city of 25 million people after being locked down for almost a month.
“We were fleeing,” Vivian said.
“We were lucky to be able to leave, but so many people are not in [that] position.
“I feel like we abandoned our neighbours… they were really happy that we were able to go, but I felt terrible leaving them.”
Vivian’s family moved to Suzhou, a city near Shanghai, in January 2021 when her husband landed a job at a Chinese university, before relocating to Shanghai earlier this year.
Last month, the family decided to return to Australia after seeing increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in their neighbourhood and due to fear of the government separating infected children from their parents.
“People have been taken away in the middle of the night from our lane. Screaming. It was awful,” Vivian said.
Vivian only wanted to be known by her first name because her husband might return to China later this year to continue working at the university.
Australian government data shows 594 citizens and permanent residents travelled from Shanghai to Australia during March and April this year.
But it is unclear how many of those travellers were expats living in Shanghai, or travellers from other parts of China transiting through Shanghai — a major travel and transit hub — to return to Australia.
Despite the tight rules, Vivian said foreigners living in Shanghai were able to apply for an exemption to travel to the airport to leave China.
Vivian said the family also had to pay $600 for PCR tests before they travelled and one-way flight tickets cost them $9,000.
But their bid to leave China was further complicated after their eight-month-old daughter’s passport was left in Suzhou, where they lived before moving to Shanghai.
Shanghai’s restrictions made it almost “impossible” to pick up the passport, said Vivian.
But luckily, 48 hours before their flight, Vivian was able to retrieve the passport with the help of her husband’s colleague. This involved paying $400 for a taxi driver to pick it up and courier it to Shanghai.
Vivian said she and a fellow passenger broke down in tears from their relief at being back on Australian soil after fleeing Shanghai.
“We cried at the airport,” she said.
Australian expats in the city who spoke to the ABC several weeks ago said they were at breaking point.
Shanghai officials have repeatedly emphasised that Shanghai has an abundant food supply, and the government was working hard to meet people’s medical demands.
But Vivian said her family also struggled to get enough food during lockdown.
She said the only food they received from the local government in the first 14 days was a bag of vegetables on the first day.
Shanghai resident Renee Yao, 23, is looking forward to leaving the lockdown to study in Melbourne later this year.
Ms Yao has booked a flight in July but is worried her schedule might be affected if the lockdown is still in place.
She has been stuck at home since March 24 and had struggled with a shortage of food supply and mental health issues.
Despite the lack of certainty around the end to Shanghai’s lockdown, some Australians remain unfazed.
Chinese Australian Will Lin said he had no plans to return to Australia, as his career in the financial analysis industry had just “gotten on track”.
“I prefer to stay here,” he said.
Mr Lin, a Sydneysider, moved back to China in early in 2020 for Lunar New Year just before the pandemic hit.
He said his experience of Shanghai’s lockdown wasn’t as bad as some others, despite being stuck in a hotel for 42 days.
“I don’t need to worry about food. Our hotel provided breakfast and they ordered food deliveries for us for lunch and dinner,” he said.
“We have heating and air-conditioning.”
Mr Lin added the COVID situation in Shanghai was already getting better and he believed he would be out of lockdown before too long.