Misinformation and distrust are helping Covid kill elderly in China

Such was the case with my uncle in Nanyang, Henan Province, who rarely ventured outside his home. He was the only member of his family who was not vaccinated. I visited him in June 2022, and one evening a group of village leaders along with medical personnel from the local hospital stormed into our home unannounced.

They claimed they had to come in person to confirm if my uncle was bedridden, in which case he should have skipped the vaccination. They went straight into the bedroom and took pictures of my uncle, an 83-year-old man in his pajamas who had just returned from the hospital and was in bed after a month’s battle with coronary artery disease and cholecystitis. still in a vulnerable state.

“He’s now officially exempt from vaccination, we’ll take these photos as evidence to the local authority,” one guy said in a soothing voice as he showed my cousin his phone.

It all happened so quickly that as I walked away I couldn’t help but burst out laughing out loud in the yard, “What the hell just happened? How can they barge in like that? Right in front of them is a person in pain, they just take pictures, finish their task and leave without even checking his health. So much for elderly care! Everything is just a matter of form!”

It seems to me that if you happen to have pre-existing conditions or other serious illnesses, you are responsible for your own fate. Nobody forces you to be vaccinated, so nobody is responsible for your health if Covid finds you.

“Hundreds of corpses” await cremation

When the virus swept across the country after the government scrapped the zero-Covid policy in December 2022, my cousin immediately sent my uncle to the hospital. That way, if something had happened, he would have been well taken care of immediately by the doctors and nurses. Luckily after a week, when the whole family was recovering from Covid, they got him home safe and sound. Uncle had struggled with many illnesses over the past eight years and was frequently in the hospital. But every time we worried that he wouldn’t make it, he proved us wrong with his incredible resilience: he was discharged from the hospital every time.

I wish everyone else fighting Covid could be as lucky as my uncle, but the reality is grim. There has been a rapid spate of deaths among the elderly in China, and hospitals and crematoria have been overwhelmed for the past month. Posts mourning the deaths of relatives of friends kept popping up in WeChat Moments, and celebrity obituaries were shared on social media day after day, alongside those of people you knew from your hometown. In the meantime, doctors and nurses were under enormous pressure, not only had to care for hundreds of patients, but also became ill themselves at the same time.

“I’m starting to doubt the meaning of everything. I used to take pride in helping others and saving lives, but I’m also just a normal person who wants to have a normal job, I don’t have big ambitions, I just want to earn a decent salary and support my family. But since the pandemic, I’ve been overworking almost every day. Physical pain was nothing compared to this endless mental torment. The moans of the patients and the cries of the people who lost loved ones echoed from every corner of the hospital. The whole atmosphere is just too depressing.

“You know, there are waiting lists not only to get a bed in the hospital, but also to be cremated! With hundreds of bodies awaiting cremation, many families are forced to carry their deceased to other cities, while those with connections can have them cremated the next day. It’s like we’re right back at the first Covid wave in Wuhan! I really don’t know how much more of this I can take…”

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