SHANGHAI: As many Shanghai residents rushed onto the streets this week to reunite with friends and pop champagne to celebrate the end of a two month-long lockdown, Li Menghua was busy packing up his hair salon, a casualty of the draconian quest to stamp out COVID-19.
Li, 24, set up his salon three years ago after leaving home in Henan province to seek his fortune in China's largest and most prosperous city.
"Our business was really good, always busy with customers. But because of the pandemic, a lot of shopfronts have to close," he said.
"Not many people can survive more than two months without a salary," he said.
While China has declared victory over the virus in Shanghai, residents are grappling with the trauma of their experience - from lost incomes, the loss of freedom, the death of friends and relatives, and even hunger.
Many struggled to buy food or medicine. Hundreds of thousands were sent to crowded quarantine centres, sometimes dragged away by police against their will. Many people died after being unable to access essential medical care.
Mothers were separated from their children in the early days until a public outcry moved authorities to revise the policy. Others woke to find their front doors barricaded in by fences.
A pet dog was beaten to death after its owner tested positive.
Many emerging from lockdown described a sense of apprehension and worry for the future, disillusionment, and anger towards authorities.
"I feel that people’s trust in the government has plummeted, with many unbelievable things happening," said Reddick Chen.
"Too much has been lost and now we worry it will come again."
Many residents expressed disbelief that their lives were upended so quickly.
One, who requested anonymity, described how her 89-year-old grandfather had taken his own life after three weeks of isolation and inability to attend his normal medical check-ups left him in pain and despair.
He lived just 25 minutes away from the family.
Hu Changgen, a migrant working as a security guard, said he had worried so much about food during lockdown that at one point he hoped to get COVID-19 so that he could be sent to a quarantine centre and get three meals a day.
A woman described how she had received multiple threatening calls from government agencies after posting online about her experience during lockdown.
Censors scrambled to suppress the flood of complaints and criticisms voiced online during lockdown.
"Before COVID-19 hit, we lived fine, we have high salaries ... it has been a shock," she said. "This time, every bottom line has been crossed."
She plans to leave China for good.
Therapists and psychologists told Reuters anxious calls had surged during the period.
Sharon Yen, a clinical psychotherapist at the United Family Hospital, said she was especially concerned about the lockdown's impact on children. She expects to see more children seeking help, but she is even more worried about those who need help but do not get it due to stigma around mental health.
"I feel like the greatest impact will be the lost sense of time. Over time, they just kind of lose motivation to do things they used to enjoy."
On Wednesday, marketing consultancy chairman Hua Shan wrote on the Weibo social media platform to his 596,000 followers expressing frustration at how people were sending congratulations about the lockdown lifting.
"I don't want your congratulations after more than two months of humiliation," he said.
"This has been a huge shame for Shanghai and for all of us - the dead, the unemployed, the closed businesses - if we celebrate as though we're fine, we're no better than beasts."
The post had disappeared by Thursday.
Shanghai authorities have acknowledged problems such as issues with obtaining food supplies and striven to loosen bottlenecks, but had relented little on their adherence to zero-COVID curbs after Beijing urged a doubling down.
City officials thanked the public on Wednesday for their cooperation but this prompted calls for them to issue an apology. State media said on Thursday that zero-COVID was the most appropriate strategy for China's situation.