A worker in protective gear holds up a sign that reads “Do not crowd” as he directs a resident near a line for the first round of mass coronavirus testing in the Jingan district of western Shanghai on April 1. (Chen Si/AP)
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SHANGHAI — The pleas were growing more urgent by the day: “A 15-year-old girl with lymphoblastic leukemia. She has recurring fever and has tested positive for covid … the situation is critical!!!”

Wang Jianhui, 26, said his family made the appeal on an online crowdsourced list of Shanghai residents needing urgent medical help, as they struggled to get his sister admitted to a hospital in the midst of Shanghai’s coronavirus lockdown. By Friday, hundreds had posted in the spreadsheet seeking access to hospitals.

“She’s a leukemia patient, and previously when she got a fever it caused her body’s cells to decline,” Wang said. “So when she got a fever again, we were all scared.”

Shanghai reverses course with total lockdowns as covid surges in China

Wang said that after a two-day wait, his sister and mother, who both had covid, were admitted Thursday to a hospital. His father, a mechanic who also tested positive, was taken to a quarantine center.

While the United States and many other places in Asia are returning to normal, China’s financial capital has descended into its deepest crisis of the pandemic. Shanghai authorities ordered all 26 million residents into strict home quarantine this week in two phases, prompting desperate calls from those suddenly unable to leave their homes for medical assistance. Normally crowded streets stood empty, with some stretches of storefronts blocked off with barricades.

Shanghai health commission chief, Wu Jinglei, said at a news conference Thursday the city had 50 percent more ambulances on the road, with their workload tripled, but they could not meet all requests for medical help. The city recently turned its convention center into a 15,000-bed quarantine center.

Several reported deaths this week in Shanghai may have been preventable if the medical system had not been so overloaded.

Shanghai reported 4,502 new covid cases on Friday, with authorities elsewhere saying the outbreak had spread to 23 provinces.

China’s ‘zero covid’ policy wavers as infections spread and complaints over lockdowns surge

Some factories in Shanghai — a major industrial hub — have suspended operation, while others are requiring workers to stay on-site day and night to ensure production can continue.

Shanghai’s port, the world’s busiest, remained open, state media reported. There are concerns that any delays at the port could ripple across global supply chains.

The shutdown of the nation’s financial capital is a grim setback as China seeks a path out of the pandemic. Beijing officials had signaled that after two years of a “zero covid” strategy that weighed on the economy, they wanted to begin opening up. As a city full of business executives, Shanghai had been particularly eager for a return to normal.

Shanghai’s snapback to lockdown reflects how officials still fear the consequences of a spiraling outbreak more than they desire the benefits of opening up. A number of municipal officials lost their jobs during the pandemic for outbreaks on their turf.

This week across Shanghai, residents struggled to maintain their food stocks, with meal and grocery delivery services not working in many areas. Neighborhood committees, tasked with ensuring residents had enough to eat, raced to shuttle bags of vegetables door-to-door.

Unable to leave their homes, dog owners agonized over what to do, with some putting their pets in diapers. Ahead of the lockdown, brawls erupted in supermarkets as residents competed for what was left on the shelves.

China was accustomed to such chaotic scenes in smaller cities. But to see them play out in Shanghai, the nation’s most cosmopolitan city, was surreal and troubling for many.

John Lu, a 49-year-old Shanghai resident, said he has spent the past week trying to make appointments for dialysis treatment for his 76-year-old father. Despite local authorities’ promises that they had secured a spot for his father on Friday, the hospital turned him down because his name was not on the list.

Lu said his father used to have three dialysis treatments a week but has received only one this week. The hospital promised his father could go Saturday if he had a negative PCR test, and Lu hoped it would not be canceled.

“I can only think about when’s the next time,” Lu said. “At least each treatment could make him live for a few more days.”

The Pudong district health commission announced on Thursday it had suspended a paramedic who refused to allow his ambulance’s defibrillator to be used on a man suffering a medical emergency, saying the ambulance needed to take another patient to the hospital. The ill man was later pronounced dead.

“His heart has stopped!” a woman screamed at the paramedic in the ambulance, in a video widely circulated online in China. “You clearly have a defibrillator! Why don’t you lend it to us?”

Last week, a nurse in Shanghai died of an asthma attack after being refused admittance to her own hospital.

Shanghai’s secretary general Ma Chunlei said Thursday that preparations had been insufficient. “We sincerely accept your criticism and are working hard to improve ourselves,” he said at a news conference.

On Friday, the city announced new requirements for neighborhood officials to check on residents’ medical conditions and ensure that those with urgent needs could access hospitals.

The citywide lockdown was originally supposed to last four days for each half of the city, allowing for all residents to be tested and for infected individuals to be pulled into quarantine. But the lockdown has been extended for areas with positive cases.

Shanghai resident Jeff Zheng, 40, said his residential compound was put under two weeks of home quarantine on Wednesday after a positive case was discovered there. He said his sister, who is rehabilitating from a stroke, checked herself into a nursing home for fear that she could not manage by herself in a long lockdown.

“The lockdown came at an awkward time, just when I thought we were going to take a more open stance,” Zheng said. “I think our country will stay closed for much longer.”

Li reported from Seoul and Chiang from Taipei, Taiwan.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

End of the public health emergency: The Biden administration ended the public health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic on May 11, just days after WHO said it would no longer classify the coronavirus pandemic as a public health emergency. Here’s what the end of the covid public health emergency means for you.

Tracking covid cases, deaths: Covid-19 was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States last year with covid deaths dropping 47 percent between 2021 and 2022. See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world.

The latest on coronavirus boosters: The FDA cleared the way for people who are at least 65 or immune-compromised to receive a second updated booster shot for the coronavirus. Here’s who should get the second covid booster and when.

New covid variant: A new coronavirus subvariant, XBB. 1.16, has been designated as a “variant under monitoring” by the World Health Organization. The latest omicron offshoot is particularly prevalent in India. Here’s what you need to know about Arcturus.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

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