Shanghai hospital pays the price for China’s Covid response

BEIJING: The series of hospital deaths for elderly patients in Shanghai are underscoring the dangerous consequences of China’s stubborn pursuit of a zero-Covid approach amid a creeping outbreak. ladder in a city of 26 million people.
Many patients died at Donghai aged care hospital in Shanghai, relatives of the patients told The Associated Press.
They say their loved ones have not been properly cared for after caregivers exposed to the virus were placed in isolation, subject to strict pandemic regulations, draining their staff. hospital.
Family members took to social media to plead for help and answers and demanded to watch surveillance video from inside the facility after receiving little or no information from the hospital.
Hospital morbidity and mortality is a strong criticism of China’s strategy of sticking to a zero-Covid policy as it deals with the outbreak in Shanghai, in which most people infected with no symptoms.
With a focus on forcing positive cases and close contacts into designated collective isolation facilities, the cost of zero-Covid may outweigh the risk of contracting the disease.
Shen Peiming, 71, is one such victim. She died Sunday morning at the hospital, without any relatives by her side. A family member said they have repeatedly called the hospital to find out the circumstances of Shen’s death, but have yet to receive a clear answer.
“How many lockdowns have there been since 2020? They still don’t have the experience of managing this?” said the family. All they knew was that her doctor and nurse weren’t there to care for Shen, who was partially paralyzed after a stroke.
Her last nursing assistant was quarantined for close contact with a positive case, the relative said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
An unknown worker called to inform them of her death. Later, the hospital said it was a chest infection.
The hospital had a Covid-19 outbreak, the family heard from the order, but Shen tested negative last week. Shanghai authorities have reported no deaths from this outbreak, but questions have been raised about the reliability of the data.
A city health official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic, said that the standard for confirming cases and deaths was very strict and vulnerable to political interference.
It is not clear how many patients have died at the hospital and whether anyone has died from Covid-19. Families say they are talking to other families whose loved ones have also died.
An article from the Chinese news agency Caixin describing the deaths and infections was taken down shortly after it was published, seemingly targeted by censors.
Calls to Donghai Elderly Care’s main office went unanswered. Shanghai authorities did not respond to a fax request for comment.
Most experts agree that China’s zero-Covid approach has been very successful in reducing deaths when there are limited drugs or vaccines.
However, now that injections are widely available in China and with the advent of the omicron variant, many argue that the government should abandon the policy and focus instead on medical resources. health for the elderly and vulnerable.
Instead, Shanghai locked down its 26 million people and carried out mass testing to tackle the outbreak caused by the highly contagious BA.2 omicron variant.
On Saturday, the city reported more than 23,000 new local cases, of which only 1,015 people had symptoms.
“If you have no symptoms, what will hurt you?” Ray Yip, founding director of the US Centers for Disease Control’s office in China, who maintains close ties with Chinese health officials. “The only people who get sick are people with diabetes, obesity, chronic diseases, the elderly. Protect those people. You can protect them.”
However, low vaccination rates among the elderly remain a cause for concern. Only 62% of Shanghai residents over the age of 60 have been immunized, according to the latest data available.
Some experts favor a strict approach, saying that China needs to raise that rate before it can safely live with the virus. US guidance for asymptomatic cases, as in the UK, is to isolate individuals at home for five days.
In Shanghai, workers are rushing to set up huge temporary facilities in exhibition halls and other places to try to find people who have tested positive. Citywide shutdowns have disrupted daily life and the economy.
Many residents, trapped in their apartment buildings, are scrambling to buy food through apps and bulk orders with neighbors.
Some people in the quarantine area have posted videos showing chaotic scenes of people rushing for food and a lack of clean toilets. Others have posted pleas for loved ones in urgent need of medicine.
The US said on Friday that it would allow non-essential employees and family members to leave its consulate in Shanghai because of the situation.
The government has hailed its success in curbing Covid-19, seeing it as proof of the superiority of China’s regulatory system – especially compared to Western democracies, where the number of people death has far surpassed China.
That story is making it difficult for Beijing to switch tactics, according to experts.
“They’ve been bragging too much to their people about how great they are, and now they’ve pulled themselves into a corner,” Yip said. “The only way they can control Shanghai right now is to repeat what they did in Wuhan.”
Wuhan’s 11 million residents were locked away for more than two months at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Shanghai’s closure was a sudden snap from just a month ago, when some Chinese health experts Quoc openly proposed gentler pandemic control measures.
The economic importance and advanced health care system of the city make officials reluctant to impose strict measures and confident about fighting any outbreak.
Further, China’s leader Xi Jinping ordered China’s ongoing outbreaks to be brought under control at “minimal cost” in mid-March, underscoring Beijing’s desire to protect the economy while containing the virus.
Shanghai has taken targeted steps, locking down individual office buildings, shopping malls and neighborhoods for 48 hours at a time but otherwise allowing life to go on as normal. .
With soft measures, the city’s case count has increased. According to a notice posted by Guangxi province in southern China, the outbreak has spread to at least 71 other cities and pressure is growing for harsher measures.
On March 28, the city began an eight-day blockade in two phases, which has since evolved into a citywide area with no end point. “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 harder to strongly support the elimination of cases in society.”
These actions have isolated nurses and doctors, making the condition at Donghai Elderly Care worse. Chen Jielei said the outbreak at the hospital left her 81-year-old partially paralyzed mother unvaccinated.
Since the staff members were also ill, her mother was not served meals on time and her bed linen was not changed for days.
After a few days, a replacement staff member started taking care of her. A university professor, who declined to be named for fear of retribution, said his family had not been informed for more than a day after his 82-year-old father died on March 31.
His last contact was on March 28 with a nursing assistant who called to warn that there were positive cases and that they could no longer care for his father.
“What happened to my father during those three days? How did he suffer?” he asks.
His father’s condition was stable on March 28 when he spoke to the nursing assistant. Shen lived and lived in the hospital for three years after her stroke.
Family members visit weekly. But visits were banned in early March due to the Covid-19 outbreak spreading through Shanghai, the relative said. They weren’t worried at first because the hospital was always very responsive and they were in contact with the nursing assistants taking care of Shen.
But an orderly warning on March 26 had positive cases and many Donghai employees are under quarantine. The hospital has hired temporary nursing assistants, but many have no healthcare experience, one nursing assistant said.
The woman, who gave her only surname Zhang, said a recruitment agency told her it was a cleaning job.
“They say your job is just to clean, you won’t even have to wear protective gear. But what they say is completely different from what I have to do,” she said.
Shen needs assistance eating through a tube by mixing her food into a liquid. She also has a tube in her throat that must be disinfected every day.
“In the past, if there was a problem, they would always call me. This time, there was not even a voice message and she died suddenly,” the relative said.
The hospital is now asking the family to sign a form for the cremation of the deceased. Shen’s relatives said the family will refuse until a clear answer is received. The hospital sent letters of apology on Wednesday to several families. AP viewed a copy.
“Due to the urgent outbreak and many elderly people unvaccinated, this has resulted in the death of those with severe underlying disease and in frail health.”
While Chinese government researchers have begun to explore ways to end zero-Covid, the government continues to punish officials who have had large outbreaks in their area.
“Space for discussion has now been removed,” Yanzhong Huanga public health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in the US “The message is loud and clear: zero-Covid, no exceptions.”

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