Shanghai Protest for Sending Vulnerable Elderly to Makeshift Covid-19 Quarantine Camps

This is how Shanghai lives the strict confinement of the zero-covid policy 3:40 (CNN) — Men arrived after 2 a.m. Tuesday in the dead of night, banging on the door of an apartment in a housing complex in ruins in Shanghai. When no one answered, they picked the lock and broke in, waking a 92-year-old woman from her bed. The visitors demanded to take the woman and her 74-year-old son to a quarantine center, since, according to her records, both had tested positive for covid-19 five days earlier, on April 14. When the elderly woman refused to go — both she and her son had since tested negative — they allegedly dragged her out of bed and onto the floor. Fearing the worst, her son helped her dress and agreed to obey. The account of the events, told by Zhi Ye, a former journalist born and raised in Shanghai in a series of online posts, has sparked shock and fury on Chinese social media. “There is no limit to cruelty and cold-blooded violence,” read the main comment below Zhi’s post on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service. Amid the public outcry, the local government released a statement on Tuesday night, confirming the overnight transfer of the two elderly residents to a quarantine site. He said police and neighborhood committee workers had a locksmith open the apartment’s exterior door because they feared “an accident had occurred” to its occupants. The statement said the two elderly residents had agreed to the transfer after contacting police officers and “voluntarily going downstairs” to get into the car. Zhi declined to be interviewed when contacted by CNN. Forcibly confines people with covid-19 in Shanghai 0:55 Zhi’s grandmother is one of the many seniors in Shanghai who have been quarantined by the government in recent days, as authorities step up efforts to remove all positive cases from communities in an attempt to end the spread of covid outside of designated sites. On social media, some residents have called for help as their elderly parents or grandparents have been taken to isolation facilities, sometimes without the drugs or equipment they need. A patient at a quarantine center converted from a warehouse told CNN that a group of elderly people, some in wheelchairs, were transported to his facility from a nursing home on Monday night. Some older people have tried to return. Several videos on social media show an elderly woman who appears to have come out of quarantine trying to enter a neighborhood compound. She is seen walking and arguing with health care workers in hazmat suits, who are trying to persuade her to return to government facilities. CNN has reached out to local officials for comment on the situation, but they have not returned calls. The mass transfer came as Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, the top official in charge of the country’s response to COVID-19, vowed on Monday to send anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts to quarantine sites, “without exception, deduction or delay.” Sun said in an interview on Saturday that community transmission in Shanghai could be expected to end soon and cases would only be detected in quarantine centers. Shanghai officials are under tremendous pressure to contain a raging outbreak of omicron, which has infected more than 430,000 people despite weeks of strict mandatory home confinement. Public discontent has been on the rise, with residents struggling to obtain food and medical access. The latest efforts to end community transmission have only sparked more anger. Many fear older people are not getting adequate care in makeshift isolation facilities, some of which are plagued by poor conditions, overcrowding and a shortage of medical teams, doctors and nurses. “For people in their 80s and 90s, the risk of them getting cross-infected and dying in these quarantine centers is much higher than having to stay home and isolate themselves,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior research fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Many of these older people suffer from chronic conditions that require special care, which probably won’t be provided in quarantine centers.” Chinese officials have long boasted that “Covid Zero” is saving lives, especially of vulnerable groups like the elderly. But some argue that forcing older people into centralized quarantine poses a threat to the health and well-being of the very people the policy is supposed to protect. “The question is at what cost? And does the end justify the means?” Huang said. A man sleeps in a temporary hospital for Covid-positive people in Shanghai, China, on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. (Credit: GettyImages) ‘We have been forced to open the door’ In his social media posts, Zhi said that his grandmother and uncle tested positive for covid-19 through an antigen self-test on April 13. They immediately informed the neighborhood committee, which sent workers to take their nucleic acid tests the next day. Both developed only a mild cough and no fever, and by April 16, their antigen tests had come back negative. Then, on Monday afternoon, the neighborhood committee told them they would be transferred to a makeshift quarantine center. Zhi was immediately concerned: His grandmother suffers from high blood pressure and heart disease, while his uncle receives daily medication for recent prostate surgery. Like many other Shanghai residents, Zhi turned to social media for help. “Please everyone help me share this! Please don’t take my 94-year-old grandmother to the quarantine center,” he pleaded in a lengthy WeChat post that went viral. (Traditionally, Chinese age is calculated differently and can add up to two years to a person’s actual age.) Then, at 2:47 am, Zhi received a short phone call from his uncle. “They’ve pried the door open,” he heard him say, his voice barely audible above the noise. When Zhi’s grandmother and uncle arrived at the isolation center after 4 a.m. Tuesday, it was already packed with elderly people, including some in wheelchairs, Zhi wrote in a subsequent post. There was no spare bed available and they spent the rest of the night sitting in the corridor. The next morning, they were assigned to their beds and each received a sleeping bag and blanket. A video of the health center obtained by CNN shows seniors lying or sitting on beds along a hallway and reception area, with wooden boards and thin sheets for bedding. An old man who could barely walk is seen clinging to a wall as he moves with slow, tiny steps towards his bed. The local government statement said medical workers at the quarantine center gave Zhi’s grandmother and uncle a basic medical checkup and “made sure their health conditions were normal.” He acknowledged the shortage of beds and said health workers would pay special attention to elderly patients with underlying ailments. The public attention seemed to pay off. Shortly before midnight on Thursday, 45 hours after they were taken away, Zhi’s grandmother and uncle were sent home after three negative Covid tests, Zhi wrote in a WeChat update. “I hope Grandma and Uncle can finally get a good night’s sleep without being disturbed again,” he wrote. But many more seniors remain in centralized quarantine, or are likely to head there as the campaign to end community transmission intensifies. On Wednesday, Sun, the deputy prime minister, told local officials to come up with more targeted measures to deal with old neighborhoods and nursing homes that have reported high numbers of infections. Officials were told to strengthen on-site contact tracing, speed up the transfer of positive cases and close contacts to isolation, and speedily carry out disinfection, according to a statement from the Shanghai government.