In Shanghai and Jilin, chaos, cover-ups and hunger under lockdown

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An outbreak of the Omicron strain that started crossing China in early March hit Shanghai and Jilin Province with particular severity. Shanghai, the cosmopolitan city of 26 million people, is under a hybrid form of lockdown known as “universal static management“, an innovation on the “dynamic zero” policy introduced during the Xi’an lockdown earlier this year. Jilin enters the second month of confinement, joining border towns Ruili and Yili, and of course Wuhan, among the cities that have experienced long-term confinements. Early reports from Shanghai detail chaos, concealed deaths and hunger as the city struggles to adjust to life under lockdown. In the New York Times, John Liu and Paul Mozur reported on Shanghai lockdown:

The measures split the city in two, first closing the eastern section for a five-day quarantine from Monday, before turning to a similar closure in the western part. Shanghai’s case count of 3,500 on Monday was tiny compared to most countries in the world, but it was driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Officials said the lockdown would allow authorities to carry out mass testing.

[…One resident] said during her first lockdown she couldn’t shop online because it sold out quickly. She and her neighbors got together and started buying necessities in bulk. She also wondered if Sunday’s panic buying, in which people crammed into shuttered stores, could have made the spread of the virus worse.

In other cases, the unpredictability of restrictions and the seemingly indefinite lockdown have sparked protests. In central Shanghai, around 20 residents of Jinghua Xinyuan, an apartment complex, crowded outside a locked marble and metal security gate to prevent them from leaving. [Source]

Although the city has not yet reported any deaths, Wenxin Fan of the Wall Street Journal reported on COVID-induced deaths at Shanghai elderly hospital still unreported by city authorities:

Six replacement orderlies at the city’s Donghai Elderly Care Hospital, brought in after former guards were sent to quarantine, told the Wall Street Journal they had witnessed or heard of the recent withdrawal of several body at the facility, where they said at least 100 patients had tested positive for Covid-19.

[…] About four dozen replacement care workers have been hired by the hospital in the past two days to replace caregivers who had been quarantined, according to people familiar with the situation. Many replacement workers were not made aware of conditions at the hospital before being hired and were shocked to be tasked with caring for so many Covid-positive patients, the people said.

A medic helped remove the bodies of deceased patients from the hospital for three consecutive days before he himself tested positive and was taken to quarantine, according to a colleague. [Source]

English-language state media outlet Sixth Tone followed up on the Wall Street Journal report by leading in-depth interviews with caregivers who had been misled about the dangers of working in the COVID-ridden hospital:

Recruiters did not tell Zhang that her job would also involve caring for people infected with the coronavirus. Four other substitute care workers at the nursing home hired by various recruitment agencies told Sixth Tone that they were not told that some of the residents had been infected with the virus when they applied for the job.

Zhang said seven of eight older residents who lived together on the same ward where she worked with another colleague had tested positive for the virus. They were marked with a yellow tag in the shape of a triangle. Most of them, she said, were “unable to speak” and their health was deteriorating.

[…] Four other caregivers Sixth Tone spoke to also described similar conditions. They said makeshift box-like accommodation could accommodate six to eight substitute caregivers, with at least two people sharing a bed.

“They don’t treat us like humans,” said a 44-year-old nurse who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals. [Source]

An unchecked wave of Omicron infections could wreak havoc among the 130 million unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people over the age of 60 in China. The low vaccination rate is partly due to the fact that “the early success of the zero-Covid policy […] created a false sense of security among the elderly,” as Yanzhong Huang told the Financial Times. It is also the result of Unique vaccination program in China, which prioritized vaccination of cold chain workers, border control officers and port inspection officers over the elderly. The poor quality of messaging during the initial rollout of the vaccine is also to blame. When vaccines were first introduced, they were not made available to China’s population over 60, leading many older people to mistakenly assume that vaccines were harmful. “Once you have formed your opinion, it’s really hard to change, it takes ten times the effort,” said Oxford epidemiologist Chen Zhengming. told The Economist.

As in other lockdowns, there have also been reports of deaths caused not by the virus, but rather by triaged medical care necessitated by the immediate outbreak response. A nurse at Shanghai East Hospital was denied treatment for an asthma attack because the emergency department was closed for disinfection – a staple of China’s epidemic prevention work with a uncertain effectiveness – and died while en route to another hospital. Another asthmatic died after paramedics denied him treatment. The moment was captured on video and went viral on Weibo. Chinese media reports that the doctor who refused to treat the dying man was suspended from duty. the sudden closing hospitals providing hemodialysis and cancer treatment has left families scrambling for treatment, many of whom took to Weibo to ask for help. Dark humor followed in the wake of death. A popular quip online goes: “As long as you don’t die from Covid, you can die from any cause.” In Jilin province, families faced the same dilemma. Simone McCarthy and CNN’s Beijing Bureau reported patients desperate for lockdown care in Changchun, the provincial capital of Jilin:

Chang was struggling to get her husband, who suffers from kidney disease, on dialysis for four days – a routine treatment that became an apparent impossibility after their city of Changchun was forced into a strict lockdown earlier this month , in response to an outbreak of Covid-19.

[…] “But how can he wait? … He was afraid to eat and drink for four days … for fear of poisoning his body,” Chang said. “The hospital won’t let us in, and we don’t know where to go…. now do I have to watch him die?

In another part of town, Li Chenxi was also in a panic, unable to access care for her mother, who has endometrial cancer. For more than two weeks, his mother had received no treatment after the industrial city of 8.5 million people closed on March 11. Their local hospital wasn’t accepting patients during the outbreak, Li said, and she couldn’t find another opening.

“The only thing we can do is wait. But the tumor won’t wait for us. The tumor is getting bigger every day,” Li said. [Source]

Residents of Shanghai and Jilin reported being hungry due to the inability to get groceries and strained supply lines, a repeat of the problems encountered much earlier in Xi’an. Many starving residents who received food deliveries organized by a neighborhood committee in Shanghai did not receive meat, inspiring a viral trend that people arrange their vegetables in the shape of the Chinese character for “meat.” In Changchun, a Party-organized effort to get cadres to “show off” their food deliveries through social media platforms to inspire positive thinking backfired after citizens complained about how the campaign was out of touch. Food delivery operations depend on China non-union delivery workers. In Shenzhen, these workers were caught between a rock and a hard placeeither work in closed areas and earn money without a home, or return to their rented apartments on the outskirts of town not knowing when they might return to work. Despite their central role in the fight against the virus, the pandemic has increased discrimination against delivery workers, said Hui Huang, a doctoral student at King’s College London. Rest of the world: “It’s the nature of food delivery work – drivers have to contact a lot of people, and everyone is afraid of contracting the virus – so drivers are considered carriers of the virus.”

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