“It’s inhumane”: the cost of zero Covid in Shanghai China

J.Father ia Ruiling * has been in severe pain since March 17th. He had gastric cancer at a late stage, but his hospital refused to treat him because the Jia district of Shanghai was closed as a result of several Covid cases.

“We asked the hospital to take him again and again,” Jia said. “At one point my father was in so much pain that he wanted to take his own life. What can we do? Please help us inform the central government. “

China’s tough policy without Covid means all positive cases need to be hospitalized. But in the last few weeks, when the number of cases has risen sharply and 26 million people have gone into brutal closure, mainland China’s most important financial center has stopped. The number of new daily positive cases on Monday exceeded 10,000 for the first time. Although 38,000 health workers were sent from all over China to help, medical resources are overwhelmingly aimed at combating Covid, making it difficult to access their patients who do not suffer Covid, like Jia’s father.

Luo Ruixiang *, a 39-year-old Chinese worker in the Republic of Congo, had a similar experience. He flew home in March hoping to receive emergency care after injuring his left eye.

People with mild and asymptomatic cases of Covid quarantine at the New International Exhibition Center in Shanghai on April 1. Photo: Ding Ting / AP
An official in personal protective equipment walks across an empty street during a Covid-19 blockade in the Yanpu district of Shanghai on April 1.
An officer in personal protective equipment walks across an empty street in Shanghai’s Yanpu district. Photo: AFP / Getty Images

He landed in Shanghai and informed the quarantine hotel and customs officials about his medical needs, but heard nothing for more than a week. “I was worried that if I waited until the quarantine was over, I would be blind,” he said.

In desperation, Luo went to the Weibo social networking site to ask for help. He was soon called by local media, and medical assistance arrived quickly. “Fortunately, the operation is done,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be that hard, but to me, like a little potato, it’s so hard.”

A health worker conducts tests on Covid in Shanghai's Channing District.
A health worker conducts tests on Covid in Shanghai’s Channing District. Photo: Xinhua / Rex / Shutterstock

The Amicron epidemic in Shanghai is the biggest test for China’s policies without Covid so far, and the city is struggling. On Monday, health officials reported 8,581 asymptomatic and 425 symptomatic cases in the previous 24 hours. The numbers are small compared to countries like the UK and the US, but they are some of the largest in China since the virus was first reported in Wuhan in late 2019.

Critics say the city, one of the most challenging in China, needed to be better prepared. “They have been too successful since 2020, so they are happy,” Jia said, stressing that she was not against the government, but her parents’ suffering was “very angry”.

The drone footage shows abandoned Shanghai, when the city remains closed – video

“Both the virus and people are changing,” said Chen Xi, a health expert at Yale School of Public Health. “For the first time, the Omicron sub-variant, i.e. BA.2, arrives in Shanghai. An unprecedented rate of rapid spread exceeds contact tracking and other conventional health measures. People are also experiencing noticeable fatigue from Covid after more than two years of rigorous health care. ”

Helpless and frustrated

As the closure continues in China’s largest metropolis, a sense of helplessness prevails. Photos and videos of young children breaking up with their parents at a Shanghai hospital sparked outrage last weekend on social media. One of the parents, whose child was taken away after positive tests, wrote on social networks: “I’m so upset … It’s inhumane.”

On March 31, several EU diplomats based in Shanghai sent a letter to the city government demanding assistance to its citizens if they need medical care. They also urged Shanghai not to separate children from their parents “regardless of the circumstances.”

It is reported that children from Covid in Shanghai were separated from their parents – video

Shanghai health officials defended the policy on Monday when parents and guardians expressed their anger on social media. In Tianyu, an official from the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission said the policy is an integral part of the virus prevention and control effort.

Responding to complaints, Ma Chunlei, secretary general of the Shanghai municipal government, admitted on Friday that his administration had coped badly with the outbreak. “Our awareness of the highly infectious and insidious mutant strain of Omicron was insufficient, and our preparation for a significant increase in infections was not comprehensive,” he said. “We sincerely accept your criticism and make every effort to improve it.”

People look through the barrier of the closed zone in Shanghai on March 26th.
People look through the barrier of the closed zone in Shanghai on March 26th. Photo: Aly Song / Reuters

Despite the recognition, some say it still hasn’t improved. Deng Zhaoyang’s wife * and three-year-old son have been in a state quarantine facility since March 29. “The institution is run by volunteers, and no one seems to be responsible. So much so, we don’t even know when they will leave the facility and no one has gone to them to do tests on Covid, ”he said.

Dan, who emigrated to the city as an adult a few years ago, said that in the last couple of years, when everything was fine and other parts of China were battling outbreaks, he never thought the same thing would happen in Shanghai.

“Before the arrival of Amicron, it was clear that those who received it should be sent to quarantine facilities,” he said. “But now most of them have only mild symptoms. Shouldn’t the government adjust its policy accordingly? ”

Feelings of frustration are shared by some city health workers. In a showy telephone conversation last week that surfaced online at home and abroad, an official at the Shanghai China Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the city’s medical resources are under serious strain.

A man delivers food to quarantined people in the Pusi district of Shanghai.
The man delivers food to people who are quarantined by Pusi in Shanghai. Photo: Alex Plavevski / EPA

“I have already suggested [to higher officials] several times that those who have mild or no symptoms should simply be quarantined at home, “she said, adding that current efforts to fight the virus are more politically relevant.” But who listened to me? ” However, some Chinese Internet users called it “wrong” and “dangerous.”

On the same day, Sun Chunlan, China’s deputy prime minister, stressed “strict adherence to the dynamic approach with zero Covid” during an official visit to Shanghai, Xinhua reported. In less than 24 hours, Chinese military sent more than 2,000 medics to Shanghai to support efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

“Not sustainable”

Jin Dong-yang, a professor at the Hong Kong University School of Biomedical Sciences, said it would be weeks before the virus was under control. “Even if they can reach Zero Covid at extremely high costs, another accident could cause another major outbreak … Living with the virus is the only viable option,” he said.

Much of “living with the virus” is due to an effective vaccine. In recent months, officials have begun to speak openly about mRNA vaccines, suggesting that authorities may have considered adopting vaccines other than Chinese Sinopharm and Sinovac. Dr Zhong Nanshan, the country’s chief respiratory expert, said in December that China should learn about good things in other countries, such as mRNA vaccines. The Shanghai government also said in an official document last week that it supports imports of vaccines and drugs to treat Covid.

“Deployment of rapid antigen tests [RAT] and the approval of mRNA vaccines is feasible as they have sufficient data for [the authorities] to approve the mRNA vaccine, as well as adequate capacity for mass production of RAT, ”Chen said, adding that both the low level of vaccination among the elderly and the vaccine technology used in China are of concern.

“The remaining time window is rapidly shrinking,” he said. “For other regions of China, it is so important to learn and increase vaccination before the local outbreak begins.”

A man stands behind a quarantined fence in Pussy.
A man stands behind a quarantined fence in Pussy. Photo: Alex Plavevski / EPA

For Jia, the idea of ​​living with the virus seems distant. She just hopes her father will be sent to a cancer hospital as soon as possible. “His pain has decreased as a result of higher doses of painkillers over the past couple of days, but it’s not a sustainable solution. He needs to see a doctor, ”she said.

Ever since Jia revealed her father’s tests online last week, she said she had received media attention. Perhaps because of the pressure, local district authorities called her to say they could send her father to the hospital.

“However, they had one requirement,” she said. “They wanted me to first delete my posts on social media. I refused. In the end, they didn’t manage to send my father to the oncology hospital, because they are only the district authorities, and they couldn’t persuade me in the municipal institution. “

* Names have been changed to protect identity

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