Anger rises among stuck Shanghai residents as the city reports more COVID deaths
Anger rises among stuck Shanghai residents as the city reports more COVID deaths

Anger rises among stuck Shanghai residents as the city reports more COVID deaths

SHANGHAI, April 23 (Reuters) – China’s major financial hub in Shanghai reported several new COVID-19-related deaths on April 22, as residents aired their anger over a harsh shutdown and strict online censorship.

Shanghai’s closure of the entire city began in early April, although many people have been confined to their homes for much longer, and the stress began to show residents.

The city, which is battling China’s largest coronavirus outbreak to date, reported 12 new COVID-19 deaths on Friday, up from 11 the day before.

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The patients who died had an average age of 88, the Shanghai government said. All had underlying health conditions and no one had been vaccinated.

On social media, netizens battled censors overnight to share a six-minute video titled “The Voice of April,” a montage of voices recorded during the Shanghai eruption.

The video pans across Shanghai’s silent skyscrapers and consists of residents complaining about the lack of food and medicine, as well as the city authorities’ harsh tactics.

All direct references to the film were removed from Weibo’s microblogging service Saturday morning, though some comments criticizing the censorship survived.

“I can only say that if you do not even want to listen to just a small amount of real voices, then it is really hopeless,” said one.

Many were reminded of the anger that erupted on social media two years ago after Li Wenliang’s death from COVID-19, a doctor who was reprimanded by police for sharing “false” information about a new SARS-like infectious disease in Wuhan at the end of 2019.

“Dr. Li, after two years, nothing has changed,” said another Weibo user. “We still can not open our mouths, we still can not speak.”

Despite anger and frustration among residents of Shanghai’s closed residential areas, local officials maintain that there will be no easing until new cases outside quarantine areas have all been cleared up.

“The more critical the period becomes, the more we have to grit our teeth and focus our strength,” said Shanghai Mayor Gong Zheng, speaking on Shanghai’s official government WeChat channel late Friday.

The number of cases outside quarantine areas was 218 on Friday, down from 250 the day before.

There were 20,634 new local asymptomatic infections in the city, up from 15,698 on Thursday. The total number of new symptomatic cases reached 2,736, up from 1,931 on April 21, official data showed.

“A strategy that requires immediate implementation is to increase the number of booster vaccination doses for the elderly and other vulnerable groups and to see if mRNA vaccines can be used,” said Jaya Dantas, a public health expert at Curtin School of Population Health in Australia who monitors The Shanghai eruption.

China has not yet introduced its own mRNA vaccines and has chosen not to import those developed abroad.

In a study published by China’s Disease Prevention and Control Center on Friday, medical experts in the northeastern city of Jilin, the site of another recent outbreak, said China’s vaccines have been effective so far, although new COVID-19 variants remained unpredictable.

They said “the data are strong enough to indicate the public importance of the full- and booster vaccination strategy, especially for the elderly population.”

Liang Wannian, head of a COVID-19 expert advisory body with the National Health Commission, told state television late Friday that China’s current “dynamic” zero-COVID policies had given the country “time to prepare,” which did possible to strengthen vaccination levels.

Tang Jiafu, a city official, acknowledged on Saturday that the disturbances put Shanghai’s environmental health under pressure, with less than half of its sanitation workers currently active, affecting waste collection rates.

Even after shutting down for more than 30 days, some connections still report new cases, casting doubt on the effectiveness of China’s approach.

“This is a significant amount of time and has implications for mental health: people are exhausted and frustrated,” Dantas said.

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Reporting by David Stanway and Wang Jing; Editing Sam Holmes & Shri Navaratnam

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