Three days after entering a partial sealing-off, Shanghai, the city with China's best medical and economic resources, is facing shortages of medical treatment and resources as the number of cases keeps surging. Epidemiologists predict the curve will be flattened with the strict measures in place, but they're not sure if the city can get a clear picture of hidden infections and curb the viral spread before its scheduled date to ease restrictions.
Shanghai reported 326 confirmed cases, and another 5,656 silent carriers on Tuesday. The city's caseload has surpassed 20,000 so far this month. To curb the rapid spread of the virus, the Shanghai municipal government announced on Sunday a two-stage closed-off management of the city, with mass testing to be conducted until April 5 in the two halves, which are separated by the Huangpu River.
Shanghai officials said that a total of 9.1 million people were tested in the city's eastern district of Pudong as of Wednesday. Certain areas will undergo a second round of testing.
After the decision was announced, Chinese social media Sina Weibo was flooded with information and requests for help from non-COVID patients in Shanghai who have urgent needs for medical assistance. Hashtag "Shanghai seeks help during COVID-19 outbreak," which allows residents to post helpful information, was trending on the platform.
Li Duan (pseudonym), a Shanghai resident, also turned to Sina Weibo to get the authorities' attention for his 81-year-old grandmother. Li told the Global Times that his grandmother requires hemodialysis, yet she was denied this treatment for more than a week as her regular hospital was closed and many other hospitals refused to accept patients at this moment.
Li said his grandmother is on the verge of a breakdown, and getting medical treatment is increasingly hard as the city launches the phased management. "My grandmother is suffering from complications, this is a life-or-death juncture. We need to get dialysis as soon as possible," Li said.
A total of 22 hospitals have suspended outpatient and other services by Wednesday. Shanghai is also ratcheting up the building of isolation venues to round up cases and close contacts.
There are also some patients whose treatment was delayed because they tested positive for coronavirus.
A Sina Weibo netizen "redsyp" posted a heart-wrenching story about his 77-year-father, who died within 55 hours after being delayed treatment. Shen Ruigen, the father, tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday when he was getting dialysis at the Shanghai Pudong Hospital. Then Shen was isolated.
The next day, the hospital planned to transfer Shen to another hospital because the former cannot treat patients with positive COVID-19 results. But it was only on Monday when Shen was successfully transferred as the emergency system is strained.
The netizen said that he received the hospital's call, telling him that Shen died on Monday night because of myocardial failure due to delayed renal dialysis.
The post was re-tweeted 46,000 times as of press time. The Pudong hospital failed to answer an interview request from the Global Times.
Wu Jinglei, director of the Shanghai Health Commission, vowed at a Monday conference to guarantee people's needs for daily necessities, and the medical needs of non-COVID patients.
There were also complaints online saying that it is difficult to get food in Shanghai due to strict measures. Videos of people fighting for food on market shelves are also circulating online.
Yet the Global Times learned from several Shanghai residents that the some sealed-off compounds responded swiftly to patients who needed medical treatment and give out medicine to those in need.
Liu Chunhua, who lives in Minhang district, where a large number of cases was reported, said that her residential compound has a chat group where residents can send their needs and social workers act quickly to meet those demands.
Medical workers in Shanghai are under great stress in dealing with the surging cases. "Our hospital has been operating under closed-loop management for about one week as one positive COVID-19 case was found," a doctor from a secondary-level public general hospital in the Pudong New Area told the Global Times on condition of anonymity on Wednesday.
The doctor said about 160 doctors from her hospital will go to work at temporary quarantine centers to treat mild and asymptomatic cases. The doctors at the frontline have been really working hard recently.
"In early March, I worked during the day and did nucleic acid samplings at night. Now, our hospital has been lifted from closed-loop management, and we are ready to work again," she said.
Nationwide support has been pouring into Shanghai to help the financial hub recover. For example, a team of 2,000 nucleic acid testing personnel from neighboring Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces arrived in Shanghai on Tuesday. Food from places such as Zhejiang and Yunnan is also pouring into Shanghai.
Shortages of food and other resources are inevitable once a city moves to adopt strict measures such as a wide-scale sealing-off, said Zhuang Shilihe, a renowned physician who pays close attention to COVID-19.
Zhuang noted that Shanghai, with a population of 24 million, shunned stringent measures like this before, to avoid just this scenario. He noted the help and information sought on social media may be just the "tip of the iceberg" of the real situation.
An anonymous expert from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention told the Global Times that Shanghai's medical system is on the verge of crashing. Yet with wide screening and strict measures in place, the caseload in Shanghai will increase in the next few days and drop after all the cases are rounded up, said the anonymous expert.
However, he note that it is a "very difficult task for Shanghai" to see the case nosedive, and screen the whole city by April 5, the scheduled date to ease restrictions.
The expert believed with help from around the nation, Shanghai's dilemma will be greatly eased in a short time.
In terms of resources, Shanghai could cope with higher limits compared with other COVID-19 hotspots like Jilin in terms of resources, social management and mobilization, with the help of its advanced economy, but it can't ensure that the growing pressure won't exceed its limits, Liu Yuanju, a research fellow at the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law, told the Global Times on Wednesday.