Shanghai Covid-19 experts hold dialogue with expats

Shanghai, home to 25 million permanent residents including around 215,000 expats, is experiencing a peak in severe cases amid the upsurge of Covid-19 infections.


Zhang Wenhong (third from left), a leading expert of infectious diseases from Shanghai's Huashan Hospital, joined by his colleague Ai Jingwen (fourth from left), to field questions from the city's expats on COVID-19 prevention and treatment on Friday. [Photo provided to China Daily]

January 9, 2023

BEIJING – Representatives of Shanghai’s expat community expressed relief and confidence in the prospect of 2023 in China after a face-to-face dialogue with the city’s leading specialists of infectious diseases on Friday.

Shanghai, home to 25 million permanent residents including around 215,000 expats, is experiencing a peak in severe cases amid the national upsurge of COVID-19 infections following the country’s recent shift in its response to the pandemic.

“With the majority of Chinese facing the pandemic head-on for the first time, the current wave was really tough, especially for the country’s medical practitioners,” said Zhang Wenhong, head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Huashan Hospital in Shanghai.

“There will be a second or third wave for sure as previously seen in other countries, but the first is usually the hardest. Reinfection of COVID will occur, but life will go on.”

Zhang, who also leads Shanghai’s COVID-19 clinical treatment, shared his professional insight on the epidemic during a dialogue with more than a dozen of expatriates from the city at Shanghai Heath Center of Public Welfare on Friday afternoon.

Ai Jingwen, one of Zhang’s colleagues who is also a practicing physician of infectious diseases, joined Zhang for the conversation.

The questions asked included when was the best time to get a booster shot, how the city’s medical system was responding to the current wave of COVID-19, the care needed for the elderly at home amid the pandemic and the chance of reinfection and its possible impact on life.

Sponsored by the Shanghai People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, the dialogue lasted about an hour.

“This (dialogue) is super helpful,” said Murray King, chairman of the Government Affairs Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. “China will be moving to a different management of the pandemic starting on Jan 8, essentially downgrading the management. Many of our chamber members are most interested in trying to understand … from a medical perspective, how the virus will continue to develop in the future and how we’ll be able to manage our businesses.

“It is very good to have factual, objective information. I think it provides a greater level of confidence in the future, and I think that’s exciting.”

Astrid Poghosyan, assistant to the Director of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, agreed with this sentiment, saying it was good to have clarity seeing how the internet is overloaded with information about COVID-19.

“I think most people somehow feel lost in this overload of information (about COVID),” said the Armenian musician, who admitted that she paid so much attention to the Chinese media reports that her Chinese language skills improved greatly over the past three years.

The dialogue between expats and leading experts of infectious diseases from Shanghai’s Huashan Hospital on COVID-19 prevention and treatment takes place at the Shanghai Heath Center of Public Welfare on Friday. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Intrigued by photos of the white lungs of infected patients circulating on Chinese social media recently, she asked whether it was necessary to have a CT scan after getting infected.

Zhang and Ai said that while one can undergo a CT scan at a community health center in Shanghai, there was no need to do so unless there are related symptoms, such as breath shortness, that make it difficult to take stairs.

“I was very happy that my question had an answer directly from a trusted source and I don’t need to think about it anymore,” Poghosyan said.

Olivier Marin, professor of Computer Sciences at NYU Shanghai, said he found the information about the city’s triage treatment system to be helpful. Both Zhang and Ai suggested that people should visit a nearby community health center instead of hospital if they needed to seek medical attention, citing how the city recently had enhanced the capacity of such facilities.

They also noted that a system has been established to ensure a smooth transfer from a community health center to a hospital for severe cases.

Visiting a community health center will also mean a shorter waiting time as many hospitals are overloaded with patients. Presently, those seeking treatment at hospitals might have to wait up to four or five hours, according to reports in media.

NYU Shanghai, which has been operating offline most of the time over the past three years except last spring, is expected to welcome more than 1,500 students, many of whom coming from overseas, for the upcoming semester, according to professor Marin.

“It was very interesting to get information about the community hospitals and the importance of going to those first,” he said, adding that he would pass on the information to the university’s human resource department, who organizes the safety of the students.

Maskay Ashish, an orthopedic surgeon at Shanghai United Family Hospital, asked the last question at the dialogue: “Can those who recently recovered from COVID-19 donate blood?”

The reason for this question, said Ashish, who has lived in Shanghai for 19 years and is the founder of Bloodline, a nonprofit association that encourages blood donations, is that the Spring Festival period is usually when blood stocks are low.

The answer from Zhang was a resounding yes that drew applause and cheer from the participants.

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