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Shanghai hospital pays the price for China’s Covid-19 response

A string of deaths at a hospital for elderly patients in Shanghai underscores the dangerous consequences of China’s stubborn pursuit of a zero-COVID approach amid a growing outbreak in the city of 26 million.

Several patients have died at Shanghai Donghai Elderly Care Hospital, relatives of patients told The Associated Press. They say their loved ones were not properly cared for after caretakers who came into contact with the virus were taken away for quarantine amid strict pandemic regulations, exhausting staff at the hospital.

Family members have taken to social media for help and answers and are demanding to see surveillance video from inside the facility after getting little to no information from the hospital .

The hospital conditions and deaths are a sharp rebuke to China’s strategy of sticking to a zero COVID policy as it deals with the outbreak in Shanghai in which most of those infected do not show up. no symptoms. With a focus on forcing positive cases and close contacts into designated collective quarantine facilities, the costs of zero-COVID may outweigh the risk of getting sick.

Shen Peiming, 71, was one such victim. She died Sunday morning in hospital, without her loved ones by her side. A family member said they called the hospital non-stop to find out the circumstances of Shen’s death, but did not get a clear answer. How many times have there been lockdowns since 2020? They still don’t have experience handling this?” the family member said.

All they know is that her doctor and nurses weren’t there to care for Shen, who was partially paralyzed after a stroke. His last nursing assistant had been quarantined for being in close contact with a positive case, the relative said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. An unknown worker called them to inform them of his death. Later, the hospital said it was due to a lung infection.

The hospital had an outbreak of COVID-19, the family heard from the orderlies, but Shen had tested negative last week.

Shanghai authorities have not reported any deaths related to this outbreak, but questions have been raised about the reliability of the data. A city health official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, said the criteria for confirming cases and deaths are very strict and subject to political interference.

It is not known how many patients have died in the hospital and if any have died from COVID-19. The families say they are talking with other families whose loved ones have also died. An article by Chinese media outlet Caixin describing the deaths and infections was taken down shortly after publication, apparently targeted by censors. Calls to Donghai Elderly Care’s main office went unanswered. The Shanghai government did not respond to a faxed request for comment.

Most experts agree that China’s zero-COVID approach has been very successful in minimizing deaths when there were limited drugs or vaccines. But now that the injections are widely available in China and with the advent of the omicron variant, many say the government should abandon the policy and focus medical resources on the elderly and vulnerable instead.

Instead, Shanghai locked down its 26 million people and carried out repeated mass testing to fight an outbreak caused by the highly contagious omicron BA.2 variant. On Saturday, the city reported more than 23,000 new local cases, of which only 1,015 had symptoms.

If you are asymptomatic, what will hurt you? said Ray Yip, founding director of the US Centers for Disease Control’s office in China, which has close ties to Chinese health authorities. The only people who get sick are people with diabetes, obesity, chronic diseases, the elderly. Protect these people. You can protect them.

A low rate of vaccination among the elderly, however, remains a concern. Only 62% of Shanghai residents over the age of 60 have been vaccinated, according to the latest available data. Some experts support the strict approach, saying China needs to increase that rate before it can live safely with the virus.

US guidelines for asymptomatic cases, as in the UK, are for individuals to self-isolate at home for five days. In Shanghai, workers are rushing to set up huge temporary facilities in exhibition halls and elsewhere to try to house everyone who tests positive.

The city-wide lockdown has disrupted daily life and the economy. Many residents, trapped in their buildings, scramble to buy food through apps and place bulk orders with neighbors. Some in quarantine posted videos showing chaotic scenes of people rushing to get food and a lack of clean toilets. Others have posted appeals for loved ones who are in urgent need of medication.

The United States said on Friday it was allowing non-essential personnel and their family members to voluntarily leave their consulate in Shanghai due to the situation.

The government has trumpeted its success in the fight against COVID-19, touting it as proof of the superiority of China’s system of government, especially compared to Western democracies, where deaths have far exceeded China’s. This narrative, experts say, makes it difficult for Beijing to change tack.

They bragged too much to their own people about how wonderful they are, and now they’ve painted themselves into a corner, Yip said. The only way for them to control Shanghai now is to repeat what they did in Wuhan.

Wuhan’s 11 million residents were locked down for more than two months at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Shanghai’s lockdown is an abrupt about-face from just a month ago, when some Chinese health experts publicly suggested easing pandemic control measures.

The city’s economic importance and advanced healthcare system have left authorities reluctant to impose strict and confident measures in the fight against any epidemics. Additionally, Chinese leader Xi Jinping ordered China’s ongoing outbreaks to be controlled at minimum cost in mid-March, underscoring Beijing’s desire to protect the economy while curbing the virus.

Shanghai has taken targeted measures, locking down individual office buildings, shopping malls and neighborhoods for 48 hours straight, while allowing life to continue as usual.

With the soft measures, the number of cases in the city has increased. The epidemic has spread to at least 71 other cities, according to a notice issued by Guangxi province in southern China, and pressure has grown for tougher measures.

On March 28, the city began an eight-day, two-phase lockdown, which has since morphed into a citywide lockdown with no end in sight.

There is no time to waste, Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said during a visit to the city last weekend, according to a government statement. We need to move faster and stronger to provide strong support for the elimination of cases in society.

These actions sent nurses and doctors into quarantine, which worsened conditions at Donghai Elderly Care.

Chen Jielei said the outbreak at the hospital infected his 81-year-old, unvaccinated and partially paralyzed mother. Because staff members also fell ill, her mother was not served on time and her sheets were left untouched for days. After a few days, a replacement worker started taking care of her.

A university professor who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals, said his family was not informed for more than a day after his 82-year-old father died on 31 March. His last contact dates back to March 28 with an auxiliary nurse who called to warn that there were positive cases and that they could no longer take care of his father.

During those three days, what happened to my father? What kind of abuse did he suffer? He asked. His father’s condition was stable on March 28 when he spoke to the nursing assistant.

Shen had lived intermittently in the hospital for three years after his stroke. Family members visited weekly. But visits were banned in early March as the COVID-19 outbreak spread in Shanghai, the relative said.

They weren’t worried at first because the hospital had always been very responsive and they were in contact with the orderlies caring for Shen. But a nurse warned on March 26 that there were positive cases and many Donghais staff were quarantined.

The hospital hired temporary practical nurses, but many did not have health care experience, a practical nurse said.

The woman, who gave only her surname, Zhang, said an employment agency told her it was for a cleaning job.

They said your job is just to clean up, you won’t even have to wear a protective suit. But what they said was completely different from what I had to do, she said.

Shen needed help to eat through a tube by mixing her food in liquid. She also had a tube in her throat that had to be disinfected every day.

In the past, if there was a problem, they always called me. This time there wasn’t even a voicemail and she passed away so suddenly, the relative said. Now the hospital is asking families to sign a form to cremate the deceased. Shen’s relatives said they would refuse until they got a clear answer.

The hospital sent a letter of apology to some families on Wednesday. The AP viewed a copy.

Due to the urgency of the epidemic and the fact that many elderly people had not been vaccinated, it led to the death of people with serious underlying disease and fragile health, a- he declared.

While Chinese government researchers have begun to explore ways to end zero-COVID, the government continues to punish those responsible with large outbreaks in their territory.

The chat room is now eliminated, said Yanzhong Huang, a public health expert at the Council for Foreign Relations in the United States. The message is loud and clear: zero-COVID, without exception.

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