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Seriously ill patients die after being denied hospital care in Shanghai lockdown

Patients in Shanghai are being locked out of life-saving medical treatment as the city pushes ahead with Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID policy, RFA has learned.

As large swathes of the city remain under lockdown and thousands of new infections are reported every day, hospitals are increasingly closing their doors to patients, even those in need of dialysis and cancer treatment.

Jiading district resident Wang Zhumin’s 77-year-old father — who would typically need dialysis three times a week — hasn’t been able to get it for seven days, she said.

“I keep seeking out the neighborhood committee and the municipal government, but they tell me they can’t get him into Jiading Central Hospital, and that we can’t come in,” Wang said. “I said, so does that mean he has to stay home and wait for death?”

Wang’s father once received dialysis three times a week at Haihua Hospital near his home, but that facility was initially hit by staff shortages and a lack of beds, then announced it was shutting down the dialysis clinic because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Neither the neighborhood committee, the city government nor emergency services have been able to help, she said.

“They told me to find a hospital myself … like kicking a ball around,” she said. She later took her father to the Jiading Central Hospital and waited all day on the off-chance of a dialysis slot, but went home with nothing.

“I didn’t see hide nor hair of a doctor,” Wang said.

Repeated calls to the Haihua Hospital and the Jiading Central Hospital ER rang unanswered on April 7 and April 8.

According to Haihua Hospital’s WeChat account, the hospital has dispatched more than 500 people to “the front line” to support the mandatory, city-wide COVID-19 testing effort.

The Jiading Central Hospital also sent some 100 medical staff to Pudong to support the PCR testing operation there on March 28, according to publicly available information.

More than 20,000 patients in Shanghai rely on regular dialysis to stay alive, and new appointments were already few and far between.

A report in the China News Weekly said many dialysis facilities have been shut during lockdown, with their staff in compulsory isolation centers after testing positive for COVID-19.

Desperate patients — including those needing dialysis, cancer treatment or those with complex chronic illnesses — frequently post appeals to social media calling for help from somewhere; anywhere.

Shen Ruiyin, a 77-year- old Shanghai resident, died on the evening of March 28 due to heart failure caused by going without kidney dialysis for a prolonged period. His son Shen Li took to Weibo to complain that his father had been transferred between three difference hospitals after testing positive for COVID-19 on March 26.

He died alone in the hospital, with no family at his side, without the medication he needed, and with no dialysis, Shen Li wrote.

Qi Guoyong, a 79 -year-old Shanghai resident, lost his wife Zhang Siling at the end of March.

“I am very saddened by the death of my wife, but I can’t do anything about it,” Qi told RFA. “I hope the hospital can give me some kind of answer… I just want them to give me an explanation.”

Qi said the hospital is “too busy” to worry about his wife’s death, with a huge backlog of cancer patients awaiting chemotherapy.

But he wants to know if Zhang, who was passed around three different hospitals after presenting with abdominal pain on March 22, was misdiagnosed; if anything could have been done to save her.

Zhang was initially treated for pancreatitis, before developing sepsis likely caused by a bowel obstruction, Qi said.

A Hangzhou resident surnamed Lei, 33, said she had brought her terminally ill mother to Shanghai to seek treatment at the Shanghai Fudan Cancer Hospital on March 23, and surgery was scheduled within seven days from her admission.

But lockdown hit, and Lei’s mother’s surgery was repeatedly postponed, with doctors telling Lei that her mother had to wait two weeks because they weren’t Shanghai residents.

“We are really desperate,” Lei said. “My mother’s metastatic tumor could still be surgically removed, but it’s been more than 60 days since her last chemotherapy, and the tumor could grow … or metastasize at any time.”

“My mother has diabetes, and there is no food or medicine available around here … this has been devastating for my mother’s mental health.”

It’s a humanitarian disaster that has rippled through Shanghai since lockdown came.

At least two asthma patients have died after being refused treatment by medical staff on the grounds of disease prevention, according to online reports.

Miao Xiaohui, former chief physician at Shanghai Changzheng Hospital, wrote in an April 7 article that the government should be taking steps to address the issue of non-COVID excess deaths caused by the restrictions.

He cited figures reported in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) as saying that the mortality rate from diabetes in China increased by 83 percent during 2021, while the suicide rate has risen by 66 percent, compared with before the pandemic.

Meanwhile, local officials charged with imposing draconian stay-at-home restrictions have been resigning en masse, citing a lack of understanding of the impact of the zero-COVID policies on the ground, and a lack of support for those tasked with enforcing them, many of whom are retirees and volunteers.

Wu Yingchuan, branch CCP secretary at Shanghai’s Changli Garden residential compound, said in a resignation letter that the committee were resigning as they were unable to meet testing and contract-tracing requirements as required by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“There are too many things that we grassroots officials needed to know from the start, but we weren’t told,” Wu wrote, adding that his neighborhood committee had tried their hardest to arrange transportation for chemotherapy and dialysis patients, but had been told repeatedly not to send them to hospitals.

The Hancheng neighborhood committee sent an open letter to residents on April 9, saying that its members had been separated from their families since March 17.

“We are also doing our best to comply with all of these government policies, which every department expects us to understand and cooperate with, but nobody understands us,” the letter said. “We have also gotten to the point where we can’t take it any more.”

Many neighborhood committees have accused CDC of failing to send test personnel and failing to make arrangements for those who did test positive.

Meanwhile, residents are increasingly taking matters into their own hands as the neighborhood committees are swamped with complaints about food shortages amid a city-wide supply-chain crisis and lack of delivery personnel to serve people ordered to remain home.

Social media clips have shown long queues of trucks on highways in Jiangsu, Shandong, Hebei, Guangdong and other provinces, with some drivers trapped for days while they await PCR tests.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency said some 30 million drivers are believed to be stranded on expressways in China, accounting for around 76 percent of China’s freight and logistics industry.

Former Chinese Red Cross executive Ren Ruihong said CCP leader Xi Jinping has become personally associated with the zero-COVID policy.

“Why do they keep saying that Xi Jinping is personally directing disease control and prevention work? It’s because they want to reinforce the idea that this is a political task to anyone who may oppose the policy, and that it’s not up for debate,” Ren told RFA.

“[This is] related to long-term dissatisfaction and secret opposition among various Shanghai vested interest groups to the central government’s zero-COVID policy.”

Ren said the problems caused by these policies have shown no signs of abating.

“We can see that the situation in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai has taken a sharp turn for the worse,” Ren said.

State media reported on Thursday that Shanghai is speeding up the construction of centralized isolation and treatment facilities, including a facility at the National Convention and Exhibition Center that is expected to provide a further 40,000 beds on completion.

Tens of thousands of contacts of infected people have been transferred to isolation facilities in neighboring Zhejiang province.

Shanghai on Sunday registered 914 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases and 25,173 local asymptomatic infections. The city has now reported over 200,000 positive cases since March 1, the CCP-backed Global Times newspaper reported.

Some 7,500 residential compounds have had some restrictions lifted, enabling a limited amount of movement within districts, it said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.