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Shanghai battens down for further lockdowns as city government admits poor planning

China looks set to stay with its controversial zero-COVID policy, as residents of the west bank of Shanghai’s Huangpu river flocked to supermarkets ahead of Friday‘s scheduled lockdown, and patients said they were having trouble getting lifesaving medical treatment due to testing restrictions.

The city, which is home to 26 million people, is under a two-phase lockdown that saw the Pudong financial district locked down for five days, to be followed by Puxi across the river on Friday.

But the Pudong lockdown looks set to be extended as the authorities grapple with a rapidly rising wave of fresh community transmission of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

High-ranking Shanghai government official Ma Chunlei admitted that the government had been taken unawares by the rapid rise in infections, as the city reported more than 5,600 newly confirmed cases, both symptomatic and asymptomatic.

Ma said his government was working hard to address citywide food shortages.

“Our knowledge about the highly contagious omicron variant has been insufficient, we were inadequately prepared for the fast-rising number of infected patients, and our control measures have not been up to speed,” Ma told journalists on Thursday, in a rare official admission of responsibility.

“We sincerely accept everyone’s criticism, and are working hard to improve,” Ma said in a briefing, adding that the government is expanding its COVID-19 testing and patient isolation facilities.

‘Dynamic clearance’

The Shanghai municipal government also sent the message to the city’s residents by mass SMS, a resident surnamed Wang told RFA.

“The Shanghai government was criticized today because of the huge number of complaints we have received,” Wang said. “They started distributing emergency supplies of food yesterday, but it isn’t being distributed to every household, only to those in need.”

“Actually, every household is having difficulty,” he said. “There are many people in my community, and only 100 households have been given a small amount of fresh vegetables.”

State news agency Xinhua weighed in on the side of mass testing and lockdown-style restrictions, saying the CCP’s preferred method of “dynamic clearance” to contain COVID-19 hadn’t changed.

And food supplies aren’t the only issue. Many patients are now unable to access life-saving medical treatment as the city’s hospitals shut their doors.

A woman surnamed Zhou said her husband had been scheduled to get his weekly hemodialysis at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Hospital, but the entire area is now under lockdown.

“Zhongshan Hospital has been helping us find other hospitals to go to,” said Zhou, who estimated that around 500 other patients are in a similar situation to her husband.

Tests before appointments

She said the problem is that hospitals require a negative PCR test before patients are allowed to attend their appointments.

“We were notified that we had an appointment at Longhua Hospital this evening, but it takes 24 hours to get a PCR test result back,” Zhou said. “The results come out too late, sometimes more than 10 hours too late.”

Another resident surnamed Wu said his mother was rejected for treatment for terminal cancer, and local officials didn’t allow her to leave until he complained about it on social media.

“My mother was admitted yesterday … they want a [negative] PCR test result to admit you,” Wu said. “I would call the neighborhood committee but their phone was constantly busy or rang unanswered.”

“Within half an hour [of my social media appeal], they called me,” he said.

But Shanghai resident Zhao Ning said he knew of someone who died of an asthma attack due to the lockdown restrictions imposed on medical patients.

“When he was taken ill, he called an ambulance, and his family went to the police [on guard] at the door for help, but the police didn’t help them,” Zhao said. “Another ambulance came for a COVID-19 patient next door, and they went to ask for help from them, but they couldn’t help them. Then the asthma patient died.”

Shanghai has seen around 20,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March 1, although observers believe the true number may be several times higher.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.