In Shanghai and Jilin, Chaos, Cover-Ups, and Hunger Under Lockdown

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

The measures split the city in half, first closing the eastern section for a five-day quarantine starting Monday, before turning to a similar shutdown in the western portion. Shanghai’s caseload of 3,500 on Monday was tiny compared with much of the world, but it has been driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Officials said the lockdown would enable the authorities to conduct mass testing.

[…One resident] said that during her first lockdown, she couldn’t get groceries online because they sold out quickly. She and her neighbors got together and began buying necessities in bulk. She also wondered whether the panic-buying on Sunday, in which people crammed together inside enclosed stores, could have worsened the spread of the virus.

In other cases, the unpredictability of the restrictions and seemingly indefinite confinement triggered protests. In central Shanghai, around two dozen residents of Jinghua Xinyuan, an apartment complex, crowded in front of a marble and metal security gate that was locked to prevent them from leaving. [Source]

Although the city has yet to report any deaths, The Wall Street Journal’s Wenxin Fan reported on COVID-induced deaths at a Shanghai hospital for the elderly that remain unreported by municipal authorities

Six replacement orderlies at the city’s Donghai Elderly Care Hospital, brought in after previous caretakers were sent away to quarantine, told The Wall Street Journal that they had witnessed or heard of the recent removal of several bodies from the facility, where they said at least 100 patients had tested positive for Covid-19.

[…] Roughly four dozen replacement orderlies have been hired by the hospital over the past two days to replace caretakers who had been quarantined, according to people familiar with the situation. Many of the replacement workers weren’t told of conditions in the hospital before being hired and were shocked to be tasked with caring for so many Covid-positive patients, the people said.

One orderly helped remove the bodies of dead patients from the hospital for three days in a row before he himself tested positive and was taken away to quarantine, according to a co-worker. [Source]

The English-language state media outlet Sixth Tone followed up on the Wall Street Journal’s report by conducting in-depth interviews with orderlies who had been misled about the dangers of working at the COVID-plagued hospital:

The recruiters didn’t disclose to Zhang that her job would also entail nursing those infected with the coronavirus. Four other substitute orderlies in the nursing home hired by various recruiting agencies told Sixth Tone that they weren’t informed that some of the residents had been infected with the virus while applying for the job.

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

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

“They don’t treat us like humans,” said a 44-year-old orderly who declined to be identified fearing retaliation. [Source]

An unchecked wave of Omicron infections could wreak havoc among China’s 130 million unvaccinated or partially vaccinated over-60 population. The low vaccination rate is partially 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 a result of China’s unique vaccination program, which prioritized ​​vaccinating cold-chain workers, border control officers, and port inspection officers over the elderly. Poor messaging during the initial vaccine rollout is also to blame. When the vaccines were first introduced, they were not made available to China’s over-60 population, which caused many elderly people to mistakenly assume that the vaccines were harmful. “Once you have formed your opinion it’s really difficult to change, it requires ten times more effort,” Oxford epidemiologist Chen Zhengming told The Economist.

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

Chang had been struggling to get her husband, who suffers from a kidney condition, into dialysis for four days — a routine treatment that’s become a seeming impossibility after their city of Changchun was forced into a strict lockdown earlier that month, in response to an outbreak of Covid-19.

[…] “But how can he wait? … He has been 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 the city, Li Chenxi was also in a panic, unable to access care for her mother, who has endometrial cancer. For more than two weeks, her mother had received no treatment after the industrial city of 8.5 million went into lockdown on March 11. Their local hospital wasn’t accepting patients during the outbreak, Li said, and she hadn’t found another opening.

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

Residents of both Shanghai and Jilin have reported hunger due to the inability to go to the grocery store and strained supply lines, a repeat of the issues experienced much earlier in Xi’an. Many hungry residents who have received neighborhood committee-organized food deliveries in Shanghai have not received meat, inspiring a viral trend whereby people arrange their vegetables in the form of the Chinese character for “meat.” In Changchun, a Party-organized effort to have cadres “show off” their food deliveries across social media platforms to inspire positive thinking backfired after citizens complained about how out-of-touch the campaign was. The food delivery operations depend on China’s non-unionized delivery workers. In Shenzhen, those workers were caught between a rock and a hard place: either work within lockdown zones and earn money without a place to call home, or return to their rented apartments on the outskirts of the city with no inkling of when they might return to work. Despite their pivotal role in fighting the virus, the pandemic has increased discrimination against delivery workers, Hui Huang, a PhD candidate at King’s College, London, told Rest of World: “It’s the nature of food delivery work — drivers need to contact a lot of people, and everyone is afraid of contracting the virus — so drivers are being regarded as virus carriers.”

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