Shanghai’s lockdown has dragged on for five weeks, sending the lives of thousands of elderly residents into complete chaos.
China’s leading official in the anti-Covid response, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, stated on April 18 that officials would send anyone infected with Covid-19 and their close contacts to quarantine centers.
Her statement includes the elderly with underlying health issues. That means they will spend 14 days in isolation sites on their own.
According to a BBC report, nearly 10,000 Shanghai people over 80 have been forcibly taken to state-run quarantine centers due to their positive Covid results since the first flare-up in early March.
These older adults have to live in isolated zones crowded with hundreds of people in each site, and they have to endure poor sanitary conditions.
Social media images spreading online have shown unsanitary conditions in quarantine areas with clogged toilets and overflowing rubbish bins.
BBC shared the experience of a woman who had her 90-year-old grandmother forcibly taken to the quarantine center.
She said that her grandmother failed to sleep properly due to the poor sanitary conditions. The granddaughter even compares living in these isolated centers to receiving a death sentence.
The poor sanitary condition is not a singular issue that these older people struggle to deal with in the quarantine area.
The woman, who demanded anonymity, told BBC that her grandmother has primarily been left to fend for herself.
Her grandmother tries to avoid drinking too much water to keep herself away from bathroom trips as the toilet block is over 100m from her bed.
However, a kind-hearted woman in the same area accompanied her grandmother to the toilet and also assisted her with eating.
Thanks to her help, her grandmother luckily survives this horror.
Her granddaughter said, “If my grandma was there alone, she wouldn’t [be able to] survive at all.”
She further added that whenever she calls her grandmother, the response she always receives is, “I want to go home. I want to go home soon.”
Besides difficulties in living conditions such as poor sanitary conditions or the shortage of assistance, these people have to deal with the lack of drugs or medical treatments.
According to a Bloomberg report on April 14, an 82-year-old Shanghai-based man desperately asked a local official for medical help but was refused.
The elderly man, identified by state media as Yu Wenming, says in a phone call, “I can’t stand it now. I’ve finished all my medication.” He added, “My throat hurts. My temperature is spiraling up.”
However, an official in charge of Yu’s area has rejected Yu’s plea. He replied that he could only give Yu some traditional Chinese medicine, saying he was inundated with similar requests.
Like Yu Wenming, the granddaughter of the 90-year-old woman told the BBC that her grandmother has not received any medical drugs or “proper treatment.” She received traditional Chinese medicine that medical experts say has no documented effect in treating or relieving Covid symptoms.
However, her grandmother has taken whatever she has been given because she desperately longs to recover and leave the center.
According to the granddaughter, this has resulted in various medical conditions, including diarrhea.
Poor living conditions and lack of medical support and treatments have made the elderly obsessed with living in state-run quarantine centers. Their families are unwilling to send them there without anyone accompanying them. However, regardless of the residents’ unwillingness, the Chinese government still strictly applies its coercive measures, sticking to the Zero-Covid strategy.
CNN reported on April 21 that a 94-year-old woman was forcibly taken to the Shanghai quarantine site. Her granddaughter Zhi Ye shared on WeChat that police arrived in the middle of the night of April 18. After banging on the door, the men pried the lock and burst in. Despite having tested negative for Covid, the men demanded her grandma and her 74-year-old uncle be quarantined.
Zhi’s grandma was among many other elderly forced to enter isolation sites lately. Her story has gone viral, sparking a public outcry. A top comment from one user called such action was “cold-blooded cruelty and violence.”
Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told CNN that the older people in their 80s and 90s stood the risk of cross-infection and dying in these isolation centers. The risk is much higher compared to staying at home or being in self-isolation.