Some Twitter accounts have been refuting claims that the Covid-19 pandemic is resurging in China. Their proof: a report from a state media outlet that they say shows relatively empty emergency rooms. But the images in the report were taken out of context.
If you only have a minute:
- Since December 29, several Twitter accounts which share false information about Covid-19 have been posting a report by a journalist from Shanghai Daily, one of the city's English-language state media outlets.
- The report was shot on December 20 and shows relatively meagre queues at several clinics. People online used this as proof that the images of overflowing hospitals in Shanghai are false and that the resurgence of the pandemic in China has been staged.
- But the report is actually showing clinics that treat less serious cases of Covid-19. The journalist himself has admitted that the situation in hospitals has deteriorated.
The fact-check in detail:
“This guy is in Shanghai [...] There are no Chinese in line at the emergency rooms, no people dying on the streets". This Twitter account claimed on December 29 to have found a video that proves the pandemic is not resurging in China.
In the video, Andy Boreham, a reporter for state-run media outlet Shanghai Daily, walks through the city, going from one medical centre to another on December 20. "I've seen some rumours online that there are people dying everywhere [...] so what I'm gonna do is go to check it out for myself and bring you guys along," he says. There aren't many people waiting in lines outside the medical facilities he shows.
In recent days, a number of photos and videos shared online have shown Shanghai's hospitals overwhelmed by a massive influx of patients. Many of them have been shared by journalists.
Media outlets have also covered the crisis. This FRANCE 24 report, broadcast on December 30, for example, shows a hospital in Shanghai where patients had to wait outside for hours before receiving treatment.
Since Beijing ended its "zero Covid" health policy, the number of cases in China has risen sharply. The increase is difficult to quantify since Chinese authorities stopped publishing daily statistics on Covid-19 on December 25.
So, does Andy Boreham's video really prove that the return of Covid-19 in China is a lie, as some people online have claimed?
The virus is still spreading in Shanghai
Although filmed on December 20, the report was shared widely online starting on December 29. Indeed, people online did not take into account that the health crisis in China may have evolved during that time.
Indeed, the situation in Shanghai rapidly deteriorated during those nine days. On December 19, the day before the report was filmed, Shanghai schools moved to online learning. Then, shortly before Christmas, authorities called on residents to stay home to control the spread of the virus.
This same week, as many as 37 million people in China could have been infected in a single day, according to estimates from the government’s top health authority published by Bloomberg.
On December 24, queues that stretched out in front of overwhelmed emergency rooms, as seen in reports filmed by international media outlets, including FRANCE 24.
Similar scenes were filmed at Zhongshan Hospital, one of Shanghai's largest public facilities, and posted online on January 2 by journalist Frederic Schaeffer.
Images of clinics, not hospitals
But there's something else misleading about the report from Andy Boreham. Contrary to the claims of those who shared the video online, it doesn't show Shanghai hospitals, but rather clinics. The journalist himself explains: "I am at a fever clinic, [...] as you can see there's hardly anyone waiting."
These "fever clinics" are medical centres for "local residents suffering from fever", according to a statement from the Shanghai government, which has announced that it has opened more than 2,500 such clinics. The government is responsible for supplying them with medications which are in short supply in pharmacies.
These clinics are often set up on former testing sites, intended to relieve the strain on hospital emergency rooms by treating less severe cases of Covid-19. When the video report was filmed, long lines were already forming at Shanghai hospitals, sometimes up to three to four hours, according to authorities.
So these facilities we see in the report are not hospitals. Small queues outside them are not proof that Shanghai emergency rooms are empty.
Echoing official statements
The FRANCE 24 Observers team reached out to Andy Boreham, who did not deny the difficult situation at Shanghai's hospitals. He explained, however, that some of the influx can be due to patients' worries: "Chinese people are extremely averse to fevers and will rush to the hospital despite fevers usually being completely normal," he said. "It clogs up hospitals for people with more urgent needs."
He also maintains, with video evidence, that Shanghai's "fever clinics" are still underutilized: "I wish I could say community fever clinics are busier because it would mean people were taking the government’s advice, but they’re not."
Boreham was recently awarded an official medal from Shanghai authorities. His advice falls in line with that of the city government, which regularly calls on residents to make greater use of fever clinics. "Fever patients, who are in a stable condition, can go to fever clinics in local hospitals by themselves instead of calling for an ambulance," said a statement on the Shanghai official website released on December 26.
But even so, fever clinics are ill-equipped to treat those suffering from severe forms of Covid-19 or those with complications. They can only meet part of the demand for care in a city where 36 percent of the population is over 60. Severe cases still require hospital treatment, where beds are in short supply and caretakers are catching the virus.