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Shanghai fires, probes officials after man placed in body bag while still alive

Authorities in Shanghai on Monday announced punishments for five officials in the city’s Putuo district after an elderly man was found alive in a body bag en route between a care home and a morgue.

“Five people in Putuo District, Shanghai were held accountable for wrongly transferring an elderly person from a care home,” the city’s Putuo district government said in an announcement on its official Weibo account.

“On the afternoon of May 1, reports were posted online that a so-called dead body being transferred from the Shanghai New Long March Care Home was found to show signs of life,” it said.

“Putuo district government … launched an immediate investigation and sent the elderly man to receive treatment in hospital, where he is currently stable.”

It said Putuo civil affairs bureau chief Zhang Jiandong, section chief Liu Yinghua and social development director Wu Youcheng had been fired pending a ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) disciplinary case against them.

Meanwhile, a doctor surnamed Tian had been struck off for signing the man’s death certificate, and is currently under police investigation, it said.

A team has been sent from the civil affairs bureau to carry out further supervision at the care home, which has also been subjected to an administrative punishment, the statement said.

The move came after a video clip saw staff load, then unload, a yellow body bag from a vehicle outside the care home.

“The care home said the person is dead, but the people from the funeral home said they’re still alive; they’re moving,” a person behind the camera says. “They’re not even dead, yet they’re declared dead.”

“Now they’re discussing what to do. Get them out of there; what else can you do? What you’re doing is immoral.”

“They’re not even dead, and they’re put in a van to go to the funeral home,” the man’s voice says.

Widespread anger

The staff then push the gurney back into the care home courtyard with the zip partially unfastened and leave.

The care home later apologized, but online comments showed widespread anger, as Shanghai’s 25 million residents continued into a fifth week of COVID-19 lockdown that has brought havoc to the city.

Some 400 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in care homes, amid growing suspicion that the figure is being under-reported, in a city where only 62 percent of over-60s have been fully vaccinated, and just 15 percent of those over 80 have received two shots.

The average age of deaths is 84, according to the government.

Vice mayor Liu Duo said the city’s disease control and prevention efforts were “stable and improving,” however.

“Disease control and prevention work has entered a critical phase,” Liu told reporters. “Effective disinfection measures can play a positive role in cutting off transmission routes.”

Liu made no mention of the New Long March incident.

Current affairs commentator Fang Yuan said the huge amount of political pressure on staff and officials during lockdown has led to “chaotic actions.”

“The disease prevention and control regulations are too aggressive,” Fang told RFA. “This kind of chaotic action is worse than inaction.”

‘Total chaos’

He said it could also be a way to show those higher up how the system is failing to function under CCP leader Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID policy.

“It’s also a form of passive resistance,” Fang said. “Better to cause incidents through the chaos and get the attention of those higher up, because only then will order return.”

Fang said the incident had generated huge amounts of public anger in a city where people are regularly banging pots and pans from apartments in a muted form of mass protest.

“They want to deal with these kinds of incidents in as low-key a manner as possible, but there is huge pressure from public opinion,” Fang said. “It’s not okay to ignore it.”

A Shanghai resident surnamed Chen said the authorities have restarted mass PCR testing in several districts of the city in recent days, but that he has refused to take part, as others have done, fearing being transported out of their homes where they are more likely to catch the virus.

“I didn’t go; I’m not doing it,” Chen said. “The whole thing is total chaos; they can’t control it.”

“The highways are all blocked, and there’s nowhere to run,” he said. “There’s a lot of tension all over the country.”

Beijing municipal health commission spokesman Li Ang has ordered restaurants in the city to stop allowing customers to eat in for four days, in a bid to stem rising cases over the May holiday break.

The city is also starting to build makeshift hospitals to isolate those who test positive for the virus, in a sign that the capital will keep going with Xi’s favored approach to managing COVID-19 risk.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.