Leah Zhang experienced a growing sense of suffocation as coronavirus cases increased in Shanghai earlier this year and the city’s lockdown lasted for weeks or months.

Despite having unrestricted access to the campus, she was denied weekends spent attending concerts in the city. The cafeteria food was too sweet for her palate, which was used to the spicy Sichuanese food she had grown up eating, and she was unable to eat it.

She broke up with her boyfriend after he assured her that he would “always trust” Shanghai’s government. Zhang broke down after Voices of April, a video compilation that captured some of the most memorable parts of the lockdown, such as crying babies being separated from their parents during quarantine, was taken down by censors.

Although Zhang is aware that her experience was hardly exceptional or particularly extreme, it nonetheless provides a glimpse of how China’s strict “zero COVID” policy drove regular people to the brink of insurrection late last month.

Shanghai experienced one of the strictest and most publicized lockdowns in the nation for two months, incarcerating over 26 million people. And over the last three years, a number of Chinese cities have experienced similar calamities as a result of the government’s steadfast adherence to the policy, which aims to stop the virus’s spread through stringent isolation measures and ongoing mass testing.

In a dramatic reversal, the government announced Wednesday that it would ease some of the most onerous restrictions in response to a wave of public outrage not seen in decades.

But perhaps now more than ever, Chinese citizens must sort through a bewildering array of regulations as local officials try to strike a balance between the most recent policy directives and the threat of an unchecked outbreak.

Zhang found this uncertainty particularly difficult to handle; it permanently altered how she felt about her home and even led her to decide to leave.

Early in March, as cases in Shanghai increased, Zhang’s university locked the campus’ main gate, closed academic buildings, and moved classes online.

She is aware of her luck. While middle-class apartment dwellers were compelled to beg for necessary medications for those with chronic illnesses, some migrant workers chose to live on the streets so they could continue to work rather than become trapped at home.

She and her fellow students, however, were free to roam around campus and were never affected by the food shortages that some Shanghai residents who were confined to their homes were, even though metal sheeting around the perimeter made sure they didn’t leave.

Each morning after a virus check, Zhang turned on her computer for her classes, but she found it difficult to concentrate. Lunch was typically consumed at one of the campus eateries.

She claimed that she spent her afternoons either doom scrolling on her phone at one of the exercise fields or speculating with her classmates about what would happen next.

She claimed that smoking cigarettes after dinner was her favorite form of escape.

There had been no sign of an end for weeks. Every week, they would send out a new notice stating, “We will continue this style of management next week,” she recalled.

She never went without food, but she missed having easy access to her favorite foods. She would overeat at one of the campus restaurants, fearing that each meal would be the last one. Eventually, in April, the restaurants began to close as a result of a lack of supplies.

Her favorite was a malatang store that sold vegetables dripping in oil flavored with chili and mala peppercorn. It stopped operating for nearly two months. She remembered that day in mid-May when it returned to campus after a lengthy absence, and she also missed the fresh bread and bubble tea from another shop that had closed.

reports of pandemic employees killing a pet corgi by beating it. Elderly people who require urgent medical attention are often compelled to quarantine in locations with only portable toilets and occasionally no access to basic amenities like showers. a local health department official’s suicide. A 55-year-old man who was living alone died in his apartment because his daughter was unable to obtain permission to take him to the emergency room outside of her building.