China reports first COVID deaths in over 2 years amid Shanghai lockdown disaffection

  • Shanghai’s 26 million residents have been in complete lockdown since April 1 as part of China’s zero-COVID strategy and the Omicron variant’s extreme contagiousness.
  • On Sunday, three elderly Shanghai residents, two of them 91 years old and one 89, were the first to reportedly die from COVID- related causes since March 2020.
  • Prior to the reports, quarantine had residents growing increasingly restless and desperate, with videos of people angrily clashing with police on the streets surfacing online.
  • Negative social media posts about the Shanghai lockdown have reportedly outpaced government efforts to censor these clips from surfacing.
  • Exhausted local officials are also now reportedly worried about the practicality of a zero-COVID strategy, which was once a point of pride for the communist country.

Three elderly Shanghai residents, all close to 90 years in age, are the first official COVID-19 deaths reported in China since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. 

After the extremely contagious Omicron variant led to Shanghai’s worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic, with over 320,000 people reportedly infected in early March, the city sent its 26 million residents back to a complete lockdown on April 1 per its zero-COVID strategy. 

The three deaths included one woman aged 89, another woman aged 91 and a 91-year-old man. 

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Municipal health commission inspector Wu Qianyu shared at a press conference on Monday that all three had underlying health conditions and had been among the 38% of the city’s residents over 60 years of age that are unvaccinated. After being admitted to the hospital in critical condition, they died on Sunday. 

In what is now the fourth week of strict quarantine, news of restless and desperate residents have increasingly surfaced on the web, including videos of people in need of food and medicine angrily clashing with police on the streets. 

One user posted to YouTube a montage of over 100 video clips depicting lockdown life in Shanghai taken from Chinese social media platforms. While some clips showed residents calmly standing in line for a COVID test, other clips showed police officers in hazmat suits dragging elderly people into buildings.

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The video also included interviews with people in desperate situations. One woman was seen crying, stating that her mother-in-law recently had surgery for cancer but that the woman was at risk of being taken to a quarantine site, which would leave her two young daughters at the care of her weakened mother-in-law.

Despite government efforts to censor many of these clips from surfacing, the social media posts have reportedly been outpacing the censorship attempts. 

A little over a week ago, Shanghai residents were also filmed screaming out of their windows, desperate to get food or walk their pets.  

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One user commented in response to the video posted on Twitter on April 8: “My son and his partner have been stuck in their apartment for 10 days in Shanghai… Food and water ran out today.”

Local authorities in hazmat suits have also been filmed sealing apartment doors, with people facing repercussions for doors with broken seals.  

It is unclear as to whether the COVID-19 deaths will have an effect on Shanghai residents at the brink of their breaking points. 

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Unlike President Xi Jinping, who has appeared to remain unmoved in his support for the complete lockdown, exhausted local officials are now reportedly worried about the practicality of a zero-COVID strategy. The approach was once a point of pride for the communist country, whose reported case numbers have hovered near zero.

Despite rigorous testing and strict quarantine procedures, most Chinese people were able to return to relative normalcy during the previous years of COVID prior to the Omicron variant.

The Shanghai quarantine is expected by local officials to begin easing on Wednesday, with mass testing scheduled for the same day. 

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