2022-03-31 11:22:18

SHANGHAI — Medical teams from two neighboring provinces arrived in Shanghai this week to offer assistance, as the city’s health system comes under immense pressure amid a rising number of COVID-19 infections.

About 3,500 health care workers from Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces will mostly assist in conducting mass nucleic acid tests on residents in lock down, according to local authorities. On Sunday evening, Shanghai announced a two-phase lockdown from March 28 to April 5, splitting the city in two halves to test its nearly 25 million residents.

By Wednesday, the areas east of the Huangpu River and currently in lockdown had completed testing on all its residents. Around 20 million nucleic acid tests have been conducted in those areas during the two rounds of screening.

Wang Weijun, coordinator for the medical team from Zhejiang, told Sixth Tone that around 3,000 health care workers have arrived in Shanghai between Monday and Wednesday. All have been tasked with supporting the work in the Pudong New Area, home to the city’s financial hub.

“The teams were assembled at short notice and have worked long hours each day,” Wang said, adding that the 3,000 members have been divided into two teams. “It will be sustainable to have two teams in rotation.”

Medical workers from Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital conduct COVID-19 test in Shanghai, March 29, 2022. From @九段棋手蔡菜子 on Weibo

Medical workers from Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital conduct COVID-19 test in Shanghai, March 29, 2022. From @九段棋手蔡菜子 on Weibo

Shanghai is currently experiencing its worst COVID-19 outbreak since the pandemic started in early 2020. With the city reporting thousands of cases every day — over 5,600 infections were reported on Wednesday — authorities have erected temporary “shelter hospitals” — or fangcang — and converted exhibition centers into quarantine facilities for those diagnosed with COVID-19.

A nurse from Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital in Hangzhou said she was notified of the assignment in Shanghai at 1 a.m. on Monday and was already in Pudong just after 8 a.m. the same day. The bus journey between the two cities usually takes about two hours.

“The system here is different than in Zhejiang,” she said without elaborating, as she helped elderly residents register for the test on their smartphones. “The major challenge is to ensure that the older people get the right QR codes.”

Since China started implementing digital health codes and online registrations for nucleic acid tests, many older residents have complained about struggling to keep up with the technology.

Wang said the medical team returned to Zhejiang after completing their tasks for the day, as Shanghai struggled to free up spaces for the patients. He said the health workers were transported to hotels about 150 kilometers away in the city of Huzhou.

“A team of 500 medical workers from Jiangsu are also helping conduct nucleic acid tests, and a 1,000-member team is expected to arrive from Anhui province,” he said.

While health workers in the grassroots are spending long hours testing residents, those working at hospitals said they faced immense pressure to ensure their services weren’t interrupted. Shanghai’s health authority has asked all local hospitals to keep their emergency and outpatient services running.

“We’re getting tested everyday,” a doctor at a top hospital in Pudong told Sixth Tone, declining to be named as she was not authorized to speak to the media. “There have been positive samples found in the hospital environment from time to time.”

The doctor said her hospital requires a negative nucleic test report from the past 48 hours from patients and their families visiting the emergency room. Hospitals in other cities experiencing outbreaks usually have similar rules, which have led to delays in treatments and even deaths.

“But this is not a must for outpatients — the hospital follows the health authority’s guideline of serving those with medical needs,” she said. “It puts us at risk, but my colleagues are risking more while taking care of thousands of positive patients in the shelter hospitals.”

She said many hospital workers, including herself, were staying at work instead of going home in case of any emergencies. After a long shift, she said they pull out a folding bed to sleep in their office.

“The bottom line is we have to keep working,” the doctor said.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Medical workers from Jiangsu province pose for photo in Shanghai, March 2022. From @记录QQ on Weibo)