Marysue Hauser celebrated her 17th birthday last week trapped in her family’s apartment in Shanghai, eating a birthday cake that her mother had baked by bartering ingredients with neighbors.
Some people at the resort sang to Marysue from their balconies, others joined in on cellos, flutes and pianos. Although she loved the gesture, Marysue said she missed her freedom.
“Shanghai is such a nice city, so usually on my birthday my friends and I go downtown and do fun things and go out to eat,” Marysue said.
But this year, Marysue couldn’t. She and her Colorado family are among millions of Shanghai residents who have been subjected to one of China’s toughest lockdowns as part of its “zero-COVID” strategy. The family could not leave their closed compound for almost three weeks.
At the weekend, Shanghai began easing rules that confined most of its 25 million residents to their homes after complaints they were struggling to get food. But most of his businesses are still closed.
The Chinese government reported 29,411 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, all but 3,020 without symptoms. Shanghai accounted for 95% of this total. A health official warned this week that Shanghai does not have the virus under control despite easing restrictions.
Some 6.6 million people have been allowed to leave their homes in areas that have seen no new cases for at least a week. But at least 15 million other people are still not allowed to go outside.
The Hausers lived for years in the Denver area before moving to Kuala Lumpur for five years and Shanghai for the past four years. Marissa and Chad Hauser, teachers at an international school in Shanghai, wanted the opportunity to travel with their two children, Marysue and Will, 14.
“I think my kids have probably been to 25 countries,” Marissa Hauser said.
At the start of the pandemic, the Hausers were vacationing for Chinese New Year in Vietnam, so the family returned to the United States rather than returning to Shanghai. After eight months in the United States, the family was able to return home to Shanghai and had enjoyed a relatively normal daily routine since September 2020.
Teachers and their children were able to attend school in person and go out downtown. While they have to wear masks, Marissa Hauser said the city is faring much better with COVID-19 than most of the United States.
“Shanghai is a great city with lots of interesting things to do: museums, restaurants and bars,” said Marissa Hauser. “A lot of times our weekends are doing things around town.”
But last month, the school where the Hausers teach and where the children attend moved online as COVID-19 cases surged, and the family could see a lockdown was coming.
By then, the family had already faced numerous cancellations of track and field competitions for Marysue – and coached by Chad – as well as volleyball games for Will. With another track meet being canceled so last minute that it involved turning back on the school bus, the stress of more pandemic restrictions and possible separation from their children if anyone one had to be quarantined led the Hausers to decide to return to the Denver area in June.
“During that bus ride, my wife looked at me and said, ‘Well, that’s it. This is the end,” said Chad Hauser.
When Will talked about moving back to the US as soon as school went online, his parents decided it would be a good idea for the 14-year-old to attend in-person lessons. Just nine days before the family was locked down, Will went with a family friend to his grandparents’ house in Centennial, where he goes to school and stays until his family returns at home.
Under the current lockdown, the Hausers can move around their apartment complex, but not leave the area, which is surrounded by a fence and security guards. Residents are tested daily for COVID-19, and any positive tests — there have been none so far — would require the entire complex to be quarantined for 14 days.
The biggest problem facing Hausers during the lockdown has been difficulty getting groceries. With no way out, residents have started to consolidate orders for large rations of food that are delivered every few days. Coordinating orders takes time and attention, so the Hausers make sure to stay in communication with their neighbors via WeChat, a messaging app.
“I joke that I spend half my day on grocery store WeChats,” said Marissa Hauser.
The family misses the adventures they used to have, with Chad Hauser regretting not being able to explore China more before leaving.
“I will have lived here for four years and have never been on the Great Wall,” Chad Hauser said.
The family’s biggest source of frustration is the uncertainty of when the lockdown will finally end, Chad Hauser said – and whether that will prevent them from being able to leave for the United States in June as they have planned.
“I’m afraid we’re having trouble getting out of the country,” said Marissa Hauser.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Updated April 15, 2022 at 11:15 a.m. The caption in the photo at the top of this story initially misidentified Marysue Hauser. It has been corrected.