Lu, 99, had been a long-time resident of Donghai Hospital for the Elderly in Shanghai. Relatives said she was receiving 24-hour care at the largest such center in the city.
That was before COVID-19 hit China’s biggest city last month, the country’s worst outbreak since the virus emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, infecting multiple patients, doctors and caregivers at the 1 800 beds.
Caregivers posted calls for help on social media, saying they were overwhelmed. Relatives told Reuters there were several deaths.
Lu, whose relatives requested that she be identified only by her surname, suffered from coronary heart disease and high blood pressure. She caught COVID and, despite having no symptoms, was moved to an isolation center, her family was told on March 25.
She died there seven days later, with the cause of death listed as her underlying medical condition, her granddaughter said.
Among the questions she has about Lu’s final days was why elderly patients had to be quarantined separately, away from caregivers most familiar with their conditions under China’s quarantine rules.
His frustrations mirror those of many with China’s no-tolerance policy against COVID. Anyone who tests positive should be quarantined in specialized isolation sites, whether they have symptoms or not.
Shanghai has become a test for the country’s strict policy. Home quarantine is not an option, and until public outrage caused a change, Shanghai was separating COVID-positive children from their parents.
From March 1 to April 9, the Chinese financial hub reported some 180,000 locally transmitted infections, 96% of which were asymptomatic. It reported no deaths for the period.
A Donghai employee who answered the phone on Sunday declined to answer questions, directing Reuters to another department, which did not return repeated calls.
Asked for comment, the Shanghai government sent a report to local media with a first-person account of life in one of the quarantine centers. The unidentified author said he wanted to allay fears the sites were terrible, saying he was given plenty of meals and medicine but recommending people bring earplugs and eye masks.
Authorities made no further comment.
The United States has raised concerns about China’s COVID approach, advising its citizens on Friday to reconsider travel to China “due to arbitrary application of local laws and restrictions related to COVID-19.” . Beijing called the US concerns “baseless accusations”.
“DID NOT DARE TO BELIEVE IT”
When Lu was quarantined, the family asked, “Who will take care of her?” Will there be caregivers, doctors? said her granddaughter. “My grandmother is not someone who can live on her own.
“If the caregiver had COVID and no symptoms, why couldn’t they stay together?” she said. “The chaos and tragedies unfolding in Shanghai this time really come down to cruel politics.”
A relative of Donghai patient Shen Peiying, who gave his surname as Qiu, said he believed the quarantine policy contributed to the April 3 death of the bedridden 72-year-old.
She hadn’t caught COVID, he said, citing test records he saw on the Chinese health app. After weeks of little communication, staff called to say Shen had died of a lung infection.
Qiu refused to consent to her cremation, citing unanswered questions such as the care she received after quarantine from her regular caregiver.
“If they were all in quarantine, who was there to take care of the patients? said Qiu.
Shanghai is doubling down on its quarantine policy, converting schools, recently completed apartment buildings and sprawling exhibition halls into centers, the largest of which can accommodate 50,000 people. Authorities said last week that they had set up more than 60 such facilities.
These measures, including sending patients to quarantine sites in neighboring provinces, were met by the public with a mixture of admiration at their speed and horror at the conditions, prompting some Shanghai residents to ask home quarantine is allowed.
While Chinese state media showed hospitals with just two or three patients per room, patients like those sent to Shanghai’s giant exhibition centers say they live side by side with thousands of strangers, without walls or showers and with ceiling lights on at all times.
Videos on Chinese social media showed hastily converted quarantine sites, including a dilapidated vacant factory where a number of camping beds have been placed, a site made up of shipping containers and a school with a poster indicating that blankets and hot water were not available.
A source verified the first video. Reuters could not independently verify the others.
The management of these sites has been a concern.
A viral video last week showed patients at a site called Nanhui Makeshift Hospital fighting over supplies. Reuters could not reach the facility on Sunday for comment.
Among those who posted on social media, Shanghai resident Li Tong asked for help after his wife was sent there. He said things improved when more staff arrived to organize patients, but he was shocked by what the videos showed and what his wife told him.
“I dared not believe it, that Shanghai in 2022 could be like this,” he said.