Outcry in Shanghai as person declared dead and put in body bag found to be alive

Six people are under investigation in Shanghai after an elderly nursing home resident was mistakenly declared dead, put in a body bag and taken by coroners to a waiting van before mortuary workers noticed they were still alive.

The incident, which took place on Sunday afternoon, was filmed by onlookers and footage quickly spread online, sparking a furious backlash in the city which has been under a gruelling lockdown for five weeks. It also prompted concerns over the city’s overwhelmed medical system.

In the footage, workers wearing protective clothing are seen pulling a bodybag out of the mortuary van on to a trolley. They look inside the bag before realising the person inside is alive.

“Alive! Did you see that? Alive!” says one. “Do not cover him again!” says another.

One worker goes to speak with people wearing protective suits outside the building, and the elderly patient is wheeled back inside.

The incident was confirmed by the Putuo district government, which said that investigations had begun. The Shanghai Supervisory Commission and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said five officials, including the director of the care home and a doctor, had been stood down and put under investigation. Another local Party official was reprimanded.

Shanghai Xinchangzheng Nursing Home has apologised, while the funeral home reportedly praised its employees for noticing the person was still alive, and rewarded them with 5,000 yuan (£600) each.

State media said the elderly patient had been transferred to hospital and was receiving treatment. The incident shocked people in China, where a wave of Omicron is challenging the government’s commitment to zero-Covid measures including strict lockdowns and mass testing. It is also testing the resolve and trust of residents.

“What if this incident was not captured by the citizens of Shanghai?” said one commenter on a state media report.

“Care homes and nursing homes will be the last places for many elderly people, especially some lonely elderly people who have no choice,” said another. “Who would dare send their parents to a care home now? And who would dare to live in a nursing home with peace of mind?”

Shanghai authorities had sought to avoid a lockdown but in early April backflipped on their assurances, sending about 25 million people inside. The lockdown has been plagued with issues including food shortages and delivery problems, and prompted protests both online and in people’s homes and streets.

Video has also circulated of a man who said he was a worker in Shanghai, walking on to a road to stop a truck and beg for food. “Shanghai people, not one person cares about us. Take care of us! Expose this! Help me expose this! I am a worker. I’m going to starve to death!” he says, according to a translation by the Chuang blog.

Heart-wrenching video of a worker in Shanghai, who stops a truck to expose his desperation and hunger. Man breaks down crying when given bananas and crackers pic.twitter.com/trNTM9vHzi — Chuang (@chuangcn) May 3, 2022

On Saturday authorities said more than 15 million residents were now able to leave their communities, with the spread of the virus mostly contained to people in quarantine facilities. However on Monday 58 new cases were detected among the free cohort of residents. Officials did not comment on the new cases, which prompted fear among some residents of more lockdowns or delays in the city reopening. On Sunday residents in Ningbo, south of Shanghai, were told they must obtain a negative test every 48 hours if they want to use public transport or enter public venues.

In Beijing, authorities have also avoided implementing mass lockdowns, instead focusing on frequent testing of millions of people in at least a dozen districts and other strict measures. Restaurant dining, entertainment venues, and schools were closed, and travel restrictions imposed to and from the city ahead of the five-day May Day long weekend. Authorities reported 62 new cases on Monday.

Overall, China reported 368 confirmed symptomatic cases and 5,647 asymptomatic cases. The vast majority – 274 and 5,395 respectively – were found in Shanghai. There are growing numbers of asymptomatic cases being detected across the country, including dozens in Liaoning, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, and Xinjiang.

Additional reporting by Chi Hui Lin