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Leaked Call With CDC Official Viewed 140 Million Times on Chinese Media as ‘Zero-COVID’ Policies Throttle Shanghai

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: April 4, 2022
Workers and volunteers look on in a compound where residents are being tested for COVID-19 during the second stage of a pandemic lockdown in the Jing' an district of Shanghai on April 4, 2022. (Image: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Shanghai authorities announced Monday, April 4, that they would double down on the “zero-COVID” measures implemented in China’s largest city a few days ago as personnel review the results of mass-testing. 

Home to 26 million, Shanghai began its two-stage lockdown on March 28, initially in Shanghai’s eastern districts, and later expanded to cover the entire city. 

The curbs were initially scheduled to end at 5 a.m. local time on April 5. However, now authorities are saying the lockdowns will have to be extended as confirmed cases continue to rise. 

“The city will continue to implement seal and control management and strictly implement ‘staying at home,’ except for medical treatment,” Shanghai’s local government said on its official WeChat account, giving no further indication of when the restrictions will be lifted. 


Frazzled official hints at city’s disorganized inner workings 

On April 2, a recording of a phone conversation between a Shanghai resident and a CDC manager was leaked on social media and widely circulated on the internet, sparking discussion and criticism of the government’s heavy-handed “Zero-COVID” measures

After the resident posted the exchange onto Weibo (China’s Twitter-like app), it had gained over 140 million views — nearly 10 percent of the Chinese population — and 16,000 comments.

According to the leaked conversation, the man called the Chinese CDC branch in Shanghai a few days ago, reporting that his father had conducted two nucleic acid tests on March 25 and 27 while he was quarantining at the JMicron Century Hotel in Shanghai. 

He noted that his father’s health status on Alipay (China’s largest online payment platform) showed a “negative” result on March 28. However, his father received a call from the CDC the next day notifying him that his test was positive and that he would have to be transferred to another hotel or be admitted to a makeshift COVID hospital for further monitoring. 

In efforts to keep track of every citizen’s health status, everyone in China is required to have a mobile phone reflecting their COVID status. 

People with green health codes are allowed to travel freely. Those with yellow or red codes are not allowed to visit public places such as supermarkets, hotels, restaurants etc. The affected individual has to then report all close contacts to health authorities, undergo quarantine and several nucleic acid tests before they can be cleared and given a green status again. 

“Is the health code system effective? Who publishes and verifies the health code’s data? If we cannot verify the accuracy of the health codes how can we trust the CDC and whether they are receiving that data?” the man asked. 

CDC official admits broken system 

The resident then asked to speak to a person in charge and again asked where the CDC’s data for positive cases was coming from. 

When he was finally transferred to a superior, the CDC manager simply told him to file a complaint with a department called “12345.”

“File a complaint with 12345? Who is that,” the resident questioned. 

“Tell them that the health monitoring system is faulty,” the manager replied. She then emphasized that the CDC’s information was accurate and that the country’s health monitoring system has nothing to do with the CDC.

The frustrated resident then said, “So basically, whether it is the CDC, medical resources, the 12345 department or the country’s health status, all this information is disorganized and scattered about. Is this the Shanghai government’s situation right now?” 

“Yes,” the manager replied. 

Refused by hospitals and forced to stand outside in the cold

The man then described his mother’s situation and how Shanghai had not arranged adequate medical resources. 

“My mother stayed in hospital for seven days while she was asymptomatic. Eight people were confined to the same room and there were no showers,” he said. 

He also described how his mother was then transferred to another makeshift hospital which refused to admit her, forcing her to stand outside in the cold for two hours. 

“It’s not just my mother, but all the asymptomatic patients were kept outside,” he said.

“Finally, it took a group of young men breaking down the door for hospital staff to admit them,” he said, adding that, “These patients were asymptomatic at first, but after being forced to stay in the cold for over two hours, they caught colds and came down with COVID-like symptoms.”

“I don’t know how to express it … This man-made disaster is clearly greater than the pandemic itself.”

No more beds for new patients

After listening to his complaint, the CDC manager revealed that Shanghai’s medical resources were stretched to the breaking point.

“I’ll be honest with you: Hospitals spots are very limited, there is no more room for new admits and no ambulances are available,” she said.

The frustrated resident then asked the CDC manager for a copy of the report. “Can I take a look at the positive report?” he said. To which the manager replied, “the report should be in the hospital. They should give you a positive report…. At present, there are no positive reports here.” 

“The asymptomatic and confirmed cases reported everyday are probably false. The reality is much scarier,” one netizen commented. 

According to the Shanghai Health Commission, as of April 2, the city reported 260 locally transmitted cases and 6,051 asymptomatic infections on the previous day. In addition, the local government added rules for “non-essential personnel,” demanding that those who leave Shanghai must provide a negative PCR certificate within 48 hours and a negative screening test after 24 hours.

Authorities there also implemented restrictive measures that do not allow any gatherings of any kind and announced that only “one person per household will be allowed to leave their residential compound to pick up deliveries in an orderly manner.”