A coronavirus outbreak devastates a hospital in Shanghai for older adults, underscoring the difficulties officials have had in containing infections even as the city imposed a 10-day staggered lockdown.
Two nurses at Shanghai Donghai Elderly Care Hospital said in interviews that the coronavirus was spreading widely among the mostly elderly patients at the facility, and people had died on each of the past three days. The two, who declined to be named for fear of losing their jobs, said they had recently been asked to carry a body to a room where other bodies were stored.
The two said they did not know how the people had died, but said many were infected with Covid and there was a shortage of tests and other resources. DailyExpertNews also spoke with Shanghai resident Chen Jielei, who said her 81-year-old mother tested positive for Covid-19 at the hospital.
The situation points to an unfolding healthcare crisis in China’s largest city, exposing a vulnerable group in the country’s otherwise highly effective Covid-19 strategy: the elderly.
China’s efforts to eliminate infection with lockdowns, travel restrictions, mass testing and surveillance had largely kept Covid out since it first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan two years ago. But with the rise of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, China has struggled in recent months to stop outbreaks. Lockdowns were imposed in major cities such as Xi’an and Shenzhen, as well as throughout northern Jilin province.
In Shanghai, officials have argued that the city plays too vital an economic role to be shut down completely. But the surge in cases last week prompted officials to impose a staggered closure. First, the eastern and then the western half of the city had to close businesses, suspend public transportation and lock residents in their buildings so mass testing could be conducted.
The rollout has been messy. Supermarket shelves have been emptied as residents went shopping in panic. People with life-threatening conditions posted calls for help online when they couldn’t go to hospitals for help. Quarantine facilities and hospitals have been flooded with people who tested positive, who must be locked up in such facilities even if they are asymptomatic.
But the crisis at Donghai Hospital exposes a deeper challenge: how to protect elderly Chinese, who are already more vulnerable to the virus, especially if they live in facilities under siege by it. To make matters worse, just over half of people over 80 have had two injections, and less than 20 percent of people in that age group have received a booster, said Zeng Yixin, a deputy minister of National Health. Commission recently.
Officials have pointed to the outbreak in Hong Kong, where deaths have risen in recent weeks, particularly among unvaccinated older adults, as a sign of concern.
It is not clear how many people have died at the Donghai hospital or whether the deaths are directly related to the Covid outbreak there, which was previously reported by The Wall Street Journal. A woman who answered the phone at Donghai Elderly Care Hospital confirmed a Covid outbreak there, but declined to say how many cases there were or provide other details. Bloggers shared photos and descriptions of the outbreak at the Donghai facility on Chinese social media, but it was not reported by official Chinese media. Shanghai has not officially reported any deaths from Covid yet. Calls to the Shanghai Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention went unanswered on Friday.
The two nurses, who shared evidence of their work at the facility, said they had recently been recruited to work at the hospital without being notified of the situation. They were shocked to find that they would be working in a ward full of patients who had Covid. They said that because they had come into contact with sick patients, they were locked up in the hospital and could not leave.
One night, around 3 a.m., they were awakened by hospital staff and given a task they said they had not been hired to perform: carrying a body to a makeshift morgue. They said five of them took the body to a room where a large number of bodies were stored.
In another wing of the hospital, Zhang Meizhen, the mother of Shanghai resident Ms. Chen, tested positive for Covid-19 at the hospital last week. Ms. Zhang’s symptoms were mild, Ms. Chen said in a telephone interview. But she was still concerned because there had been no doctors or nurses and her mother had not been vaccinated.
“The management of their hospital is a mess and there is no food. They didn’t eat until 9:30 last night,” said Ms. Chen. “My mother’s feet and hands hurt, but nobody gave her medicine.”
Because much of the city was closed down, Ms. Chen said she couldn’t go to the hospital to visit her mother.
“We are very concerned,” she says. “Our family is desperate, we can’t visit her and we can’t bring her back.”
At another hospital in the eastern part of the city, Shen Li, a 45-year-old businessman, said his 77-year-old father, Shen Ruigen, had died two days after testing positive. Mr. Shen said he was not allowed access to his father’s body or to see his 83-year-old mother, who has been locked up alone in a residential building since mid-March.
According to Mr. Shen, his father, who suffered from diabetes and kidney failure and had to take various prescription drugs daily, tested positive at a hospital in Shanghai on March 26. He went to the Fudan University affiliated Pudong Medical Center for treatment but was told to wait seven to eight hours because more than 400 people were queuing.
As he waited in line, Mr. Shen was out of medication. He couldn’t get emergency hemodialysis, a treatment that helps filter his blood. On March 28, his father was transferred to two other hospitals, but his condition deteriorated rapidly and he died of heart failure.
“I couldn’t live with the fact that my father died alone,” Mr. Shen said in a telephone interview on Friday. “I couldn’t do anything to stop his death.”
Qin Xianfeng, a local health official in Pudong district who, according to Mr. Shen, had been in contact with him this week regarding his father’s death, declined to comment when reached by phone on Friday.
Mr. Shen added that he was particularly concerned about his mother, who was confined at home alone and dependent on the daily food supply of the volunteers in her area. “We didn’t tell her about my father’s death,” Mr. Shen said.
“She couldn’t handle it alone,” he said. “There’s no one else by her side.”