A Shanghai nursing home put an elderly resident infected with Covid-19 into a yellow body bag and loaded her into a crematorium van, only to find just before the vehicle drove away that she was still alive.
Sunday’s incident, caught on camera from at least two angles and shared in videos that went viral across China, was confirmed by the Shanghai government Monday. The authorities fired several officials and revoked the license of a doctor involved, according to an official statement.
The incident has struck a nerve in China. Especially so in Shanghai, where many now question whether they can trust an elderly care system in which many unvaccinated people have died during the recent wave of infections.
Shanghai’s elderly have suffered more than most in the city, accounting for almost all the Covid-related fatalities in China’s financial hub. Most of those who died were unvaccinated. The city on Tuesday reported 20 new Covid deaths from a day earlier, bringing its toll to 474.
Doubts have also surfaced over whether the data tell the whole story. Infections hit a number of the city’s 800 elderly care facilities, leading to many deaths.
At least 40 elderly residents died after hundreds of patients and health workers were infected at Donghai Elderly Care Hospital. Those fatalities at the city’s biggest elderly care facility occurred almost two weeks before Shanghai started to report deaths of Covid-positive patients in its daily virus toll, and it couldn’t be determined whether they have been added back into the numbers.
Even though Shanghai’s new locally transmitted infections have dropped three-fourths since their mid-April peak, millions of residents remain unable to leave their housing compounds, and there is little indication of when life will return to normal.
Shanghai on Tuesday reported about 5,500 new Covid-19 infections from the day before, accounting for more than 95% of the nationwide total and about 100 times the latest daily cases in Beijing.
Authorities have detected 453 cases in China’s capital since April 22, Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the city’s disease control center, told a press briefing Tuesday. Nearly 40 infections were traced to one person who had visited public toilets three times, she said. The city has postponed the return day for schools and kindergartens to at least May 11.
Officials in China’s capital have moved swiftly to restrict movements in the city and close public venues, including the Universal Studios theme park, to avoid the chaos of a Shanghai-style lockdown—as well as meeting exhortations from China’s top leaders and state-run media to strictly adhere to the zero-Covid policy.
Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who ended a one-month visit to Shanghai on Sunday, told local officials that the city was at a crucial point in its fight against the virus and must persist with the objective of achieving zero Covid. Shanghai must “quarantine all who must be quarantined” and prevent a resurgence of the virus, Ms. Sun said, according to Xinhua News Agency.
On Sunday, videos circulated on social media showing a black van from one of Shanghai’s main crematoriums parked by the gate of the New Long March Social Welfare House.
Birds are chirping in the background. What looks like a body lies on the floor of the van, inside a yellow wrap—the same color as the body bags most commonly seen in Shanghai. Two men from the crematorium, wearing blue protective gear, make brief contact with the yellow shape.
“Alive!” one says.
“Then how come there’s a death certificate?” his co-worker asks in Shanghai dialect.
One of them calls out in Mandarin to people inside the welfare house, asking if they’re sure the patient is dead.
“The person’s still moving,” one of them says.
A white-uniformed member of staff then comes out of the facility and over to the van to double check, before taking the woman—still in the yellow bag—back inside on a wheeled bed.
Someone in the background says that it is a positive case, while another person nearby sprays sanitizer into the air.
On Monday, the government of Putuo District, where New Long March operates, said it began an investigation as soon as the videos spread online. A statement on the district’s official WeChat account said the person in the video had been moved to a hospital, where their vital signs remained stable. The head of the welfare house and three other officials were fired, and another district official was placed under investigation.
Calls to New Long March weren’t answered.
In Beijing, officials on Tuesday announced tighter controls on travel into and out of the capital. Starting Thursday, people commuting to and from the city must test negative within the preceding 48 hours for the first trip and within the past week for subsequent commutes. Anyone without valid health documentation won’t be allowed in or out of the city.
State media continued to defend the anti-epidemic strategy now dubbed “dynamic zero-Covid.”
Li Bin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, told Xinhua News Agency that dynamic zero was the “winning talisman” in China’s efforts to contain Covid.
“The path is correct and the effects are good,” he said.
Write to Wenxin Fan at Wenxin.Fan@wsj.com and Chun Han Wong at email@example.com
Corrections & Amplifications
Shanghai on Tuesday reported about 100 times as many new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases as Beijing. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said it was about 10 times as many. (Corrected on May 4)
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