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Heavy Shelling of Cities in Northern and Northeastern Ukraine; Russia Reinforcing Offensive in Donbas Region; U.S. Intel Says Putin's Advisers Afraid to Tell Him the Truth; Putin Threatens Countries Who Don't Pay for Gas in Rubles; Western Sanctions Try to Squeeze Russian Oligarchs; Inside Kyiv's Ravaged Suburbs; Oil Tumbles as Biden Weighs Massive Oil Release; China Struggles to Contain Shanghai COVID-19 Surge. Aired 10- 10:40a ET

Aired March 31, 2022 - 10:00   ET




BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): A very warm welcome. It is 6:00 pm here in Abu Dhabi. I'm Becky Anderson.

Russia's war on Ukraine entering the sixth week with no letup in the shelling of strategic Ukrainian cities. These are newly released images of

massive damage in Chernihiv. The mayor there telling us his city has been enduring a second day of relentless attacks, despite the earlier Russian

pledge to de-escalate.

And new images of the aftermath of shelling in Kharkiv; the apparent uptick in Russian attacks coming amid word from British intelligence, that the war

is not going well for Russia. Take a listen.


JEREMY FLEMING, DIRECTOR, U.K. GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS HEADQUARTERS: We have seen Russian soldiers, short of weapons and morale, refusing to carry

out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft.

And even though we believe Putin's advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what's going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal

clear to the regime.


ANDERSON: Well, Russian troop losses in Ukraine could be offset by President Putin's decision today to authorize drafting more than 134,000

Russians into the military, part of a semiannual call-up.

On the ground, Ukrainian forces claiming they have retain a town outside of Chernihiv. This video said to show Ukrainian troops burning a Russian tank.

Also today, a possible glimmer of hope for survivors of the Russian destruction of Mariupol. Dozens of buses set off for the city, after

Ukraine and Russia agreed to open a humanitarian corridor there. Evacuations are supposed to start on Friday. At last word, the convoy was

being held up at a Russian checkpoint.

Recovery operations, meantime, going on in Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine, after a Russian strike there on a regional government building on Tuesday.

The death toll has now climbed to 20. CNN's Ben Wedeman gives us a firsthand look at the destruction.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Somewhere in this jumble of concrete, bricks and twisted metal are more bodies

trapped in the ruins of the office of Mykolaiv's regional governor. Tuesday morning, a Russian missile struck the building, killing more than a dozen

people, wounding many more.

MAYOR OLEKSANDR SYENKEVYCH, MYKOLAIV, UKRAINE: They bombard our city. And only civilians are dying here.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Syenkevych doesn't normally come to city hall like this but he saw a war coming long ago and prepared


SYENKEVYCH: Starting from 2014, I thought that the war will be like this. So everything for me is bulletproof vests, boots, anything, I bought it a

couple years ago. So I started to learn how to shoot. I was in a special school for that.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): On the outskirts of this city, recently downed Russian attack helicopters suggest that Ukrainian military also saw this

war coming. They've managed to stop Russian forces in their tracks, regaining territory lost at the start of the war.

Five-year-old Misha is recovering from shrapnel wounds to his head in the basement turned bomb shelter at Mykolaiv's Regional Children's Hospital.

His grandfather, Vladimir, shows me phone video of the bullet-riddled car Misha's father was driving with his family to escape the Russian advance.

Russian soldiers, Vladimir calls them bastards, opened fire on the car, killing Misha's grandmother and mother.

As we speak, the air raid siren goes off. Taking shelter is an oft- practiced drill. Stay calm and carry on -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Mykolaiv.


ANDERSON: Lest we forget the impact this is having on the people of Ukraine.

NATO's secretary-general says Russia refocusing its efforts on the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine. Reports of heavy shelling in the east today,

backing up that assessment. Regarding Russia's statements on scaling down operations around Kyiv, Jens Stoltenberg said he wants to see actions, not



ANDERSON: For an assessment of what is going on and whether Russian strategy is clear, I'm joined by former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, CNN

military analyst, General Wesley Clark.

General, it is good to have you with us.

What do you make of Russian tactics at this point?

And is Russian strategy any clearer?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the Russians are having some trouble at the lower levels of their forces. They never have been very

well trained at the bottom. They have a lot of equipment. They're having communications and logistics difficulties.

They made a quick grab for Kyiv; they failed. But they're holding on north of Kyiv. They're holding on around Kharkiv. Some forces have been withdrawn

to be reconstituted; new leaders, new equipment.

The major effort now seems to be to tie down the 60,000 or so Ukrainian defenders in the Donbas; that is, make attacks, make them defend

themselves, make them use their ammunition up and then do a double envelopment to encircle them and then annihilate that force.

That envelopment would come from the Kharkiv area or one of the other northeastern spots north of northeast Ukraine, down south, and then up from

the Mariupol area through Zaporizhzhya, to cut off the forces that are defending Donbas.

When that happens, that's a tremendous strategic defeat for Ukraine. It can be prevented if Ukrainians get the artillery they need, the ammunition, the

tanks, to do mobile warfare.

ANDERSON: A change in tactics, perhaps, though, to that which we have seen over the last, what, 30-odd days doesn't though point to a change in

overall strategy. After all, one, we have seen this sort of strategy in the war, in Grozny -- sorry, in Chechnya.

And we -- didn't we know already it was the east, it was the Donbas region, that was ultimately the focus for President Putin as he entered this war?

CLARK: Well, not necessarily. I mean, he made a gambit for Kyiv. If he had been successful in that gambit, this would have been over. Zelenskyy would

have been assassinated; the capital would have been taken and he would have put in his own man, probably Yanukovych, who was deposed in 2014.

So that failed, so he's now back on plan B. Plan B is an assault to take out the forces in the main defensive belt, east of the Dnipro River and

then converge on Kyiv and do the job then against Kyiv.

So it is just a change in operational plans. This strategy is, still, he wants Kyiv, he wants Ukraine. He wants to destroy Ukraine as a culture, as

an independent state, as a people. That's the strategy.

ANDERSON: And he will need -- and he will need assets for that.

Witness the news today that Putin is drafting more Russians into the army, correct?

CLARK: Correct. Yes, he's replenishing the force, he says they're not going to go to Ukraine but of course they will. He's trying desperately to

get Lukashenko to commit Belarusian forces in.

He's bringing in Syrian mercenaries, he's asking the Chinese for help, he's going to throw all the marbles into this battle. He knows Ukraine is the

toughest opponent he will ever face. They know the Russians, they speak the language (INAUDIBLE). If he gets through Ukraine, the rest of Europe, he

believes, is much easier.

ANDERSON: General Wesley Clark, I do want to just interrogate some of the information that we have had coming into CNN over the last 24 hours.

We have heard that U.S. and, indeed, U.K. officials believe that Vladimir Putin is being lied to by his generals and his military planners, that

Putin is not being told how poorly the war is going for Russia. I wonder whether you buy that assessment in its entirety. It does seem remarkable if

that were to be the fact.

We do know that there are intelligence black holes in the West when it comes to Russia, don't we?

CLARK: Well, look, in the Russian military, they treat information as a secure, important element and, therefore, they lie to each other. They're

taught this; this came from the Soviet army. Putin knows they're lying to him.

So he's making assessment, making accommodation with that. He may not like it. But in their system, you lie; you lie up, you lie down.


CLARK: You conceal information, because, if you tell the truth, you'll be first one shot when it doesn't work. So they know how to deal with each

other. So we shouldn't make too much of this. You know, by Western standards, yes, it is shocking (INAUDIBLE).

But they aren't and Putin knows it. He got to the top by lying to people. He knows how the system works.

ANDERSON: General Wesley Clark, thank you.

Well, as the world watches for Russia's next military move, peace talks are set to resume on Friday between Ukraine and the Kremlin. The Ukrainian

president describing the negotiations as "only words" and Ukrainian lawmakers visiting the U.S. say they believe Russia used the latest round

of talks, held earlier this weeks in Turkey, as a smokescreen to try and buy more time to regroup.

And we have just heard from the Russian president himself, Vladimir Putin, doubling down on his insistence that countries pay for Russian natural gas

in rubles. He said he signed a decree that, starting tomorrow, April 1st, countries who do not pay in rubles from Russian bank accounts will face

consequences. Take a listen.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): We (ph) which sets the rules for trading in Russian natural gas with a so-called

unfriendly state, we suggest that counterparties in these countries use a very simple and transparent scheme in order to buy Russian gas.

They need to open ruble accounts in Russian banks and payments should come from these accounts. For gas supplied as of tomorrow, 1st of April, this

year, if these payments are not made, we shall deem this as nonperformance on the part of the buyers. And that will lead to consequences.

Nobody gives us anything for free and we are not about to be charitable. So active contracts will be suspended.


ANDERSON: Well, that's fascinating. CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson joining us live.

And you were listening in to that. I spoke to the Slovenian prime minister, Nic, yesterday; Slovenia heavily dependent on Russian gas. They have

contracts through 2023. He told me that no one in Europe is prepared to pay for Russian gas in rubles.

What do you make of what we just heard?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: What I make of it is President Putin is not under sufficient economic pain to make him scale

back his war. He's doubling down. He's saying that I'm willing to forgo the money that I should be getting, that I could be getting for oil supplies,

even though I would rather have it in rubles to keep my economy afloat.

But you won't pay me in rubles; you say you'll only stick -- this is the European Union, broadly speaking. We've heard it most strongly articulated

by the French and the Germans as well.

So they'll only pay these gas contracts in the denominations, in the currency that they were given in, in first place, dollars and euros. So

Putin is saying, in essence, thank you very much, only he's not being so polite. Then you will not be getting your gas.

And the corollary of that he won't be getting the money. So the inference has to be he's decided he doesn't need the money and he can continue to

prosecute the war.

The question, obviously, in part, is, are more sanctions required?

We know that President Biden came here to Brussels last week, saying that more were required. But the consensus was to wait and see how these were

biting -- not biting enough, apparently.

And the other question would be, what economic benefit, what support is President Putin being able to get from China?

We know their foreign ministers met yesterday.

And were there assurances given?

Is this why President Putin feels that he can forgo all this money he would get?

ANDERSON: Let me just jump in here, because you're making some very good points. That is a threat to the Europeans. There has been this sense of

unity, this united Europe front to date on sanctions.

But isn't there a concern at this point, with threats like that, that individual countries, who are heavily dependent on Russian energy, on

Russian gas, might begin to say, we simply can't take the idea of Russian gas being switched off?

Their consumers simply won't take it. There will be demands of these governments.


ANDERSON: And might that be the point at which this European united front begins to fracture?

Is that a concern?

ROBERTSON: It has to be a concern. The reality of where we stand today is there is unity across the E.U. nations, that they will only pay in euros or

the currency that their contracts were agreed in.

Last week, just sitting on the wall behind me here, the Greek prime minister told me that they cannot -- leaders cannot go beyond the pain in

terms of what sanctions cost them, that they cannot go beyond the pain that their people can endure.

We heard the same from Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, today, the prime minister of the Netherlands, saying that, you know, the suffering of

the -- or there has to be a supply of heating, et cetera, to homes, to businesses -- and businesses, industries need to be able to continue to

work. They need those energy supplies.

However, one of the voices we heard last week, saying we cannot get into pain for our populations with what may come down the track toward us, if we

miss out on those energy supplies, was the German chancellor.

Interestingly, we heard from the German economy minister today, saying, look, we are going to suffer economically. We are now hearing governments

telling their people in Europe that there is pain through this war in Ukraine for them.

There may not be physical suffering but there's going to be some economic pain. As people have been at pains to point out here, you don't get

democracy for free. And what leaders are beginning to say to their people in Europe is, we're going to have to pay a price for the moral and

principled position that we're taking here.

We're not in the war but it is going to affect us. How much energy cutback from Russia, as it comes, can really be sustained, that's an open question.

The E.U. was trying to draw its use of Russian gas down by two-thirds this year. But that wouldn't be all of it. So you can see there would be


ANDERSON: Yes. Yes, I mean, I guess the upside is it is spring. I guess the downside is spring only ever lasts for six months. These governments

must be looking beyond that at this -- at this point. And these promises to wean themselves off dependency are pretty ambitious at this point. Nic,

thank you.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine was the final straw. Why one former Russian oligarch is distancing himself from his homeland. Hear what he thinks

Israel should do next.

Plus, chaos in China, as COVID cases there surge, from panic buying in Shanghai to people left stuck, sleeping at their office desks overnight.

Why more people are questioning China's zero COVID strategy.





ANDERSON: Europe has been trying to find a balance between punishing Russia and inflicting pain on itself. Rather than come down too heavily on

Russian oil and gas, the E.U. Council president says targeting Russia's rich and powerful is a more intelligent approach.

Among the oligarchs hit with crippling sanctions, Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club; Oleg Deripaska, an

industrialist; Alexei Miller, CEO of energy company Gazprom; Nikolai Tokarev, who is president of the Russian state-owned pipeline company

Transneft; and Andrey Kostin, chairman of VTB Bank.

Let's bring in Hadas Gold, who is in Jerusalem.

Hadas, those billionaires I mentioned earlier, made much of their fortune under the watchful eyes of president Vladimir Putin. They have been close

to him. They have had close ties. They are now feeling the pain of Western sanctions. There are a handful who are speaking out now against Russia's

war. Tell us more.

HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Becky. Leonid Nevzlin is a billionaire, who has been in his role since the early 2000s, after

tangling with Vladimir Putin's Kremlin. He's been a long time critic of Putin and of his fellow Russian elites and oligarchs.

But for him, the invasion of Ukraine was the last straw, so much so that, earlier this month, he decided to completely renounce his Russian




GOLD (voice-over): When Russia invaded Ukraine, this one-time Russian oligarch had had enough. Billionaire Leonid Nevzlin, a long-time critic of

Vladimir Putin, publicly renounced his Russian citizenship in a Facebook post. Speaking to us from his home north of Tel Aviv, he said the decision

was a long time coming.


LEONID NEVZLIN, OLIGARCH AND FORMER OIL TYCOON (from captions): I just needed to announce that I do not accept this citizenship with the fascist

Putin at the helm.


GOLD (voice-over): Nevzlin left Russia for Israel nearly 20 years ago, after what he says was a politically motivated series of charges against

him and the Yukos Oil Company he co-founded. The Israeli supreme court declined the Kremlin's request to extradite him and the European Court of

Justice ruled he did not receive a fair trial.

He is calling now for harsher sanctions against his one-time compatriots, the Russian oligarchs, and criticizing the Israeli government for what he

says is a lackluster response to the war.

GOLD: What do you think it would take for the Russian elite, for the oligarchs, to stop supporting Vladimir Putin?

NEVZLIN (from captions): It's imperative that stricter sanctions be placed on the elites.

GOLD: We have been hearing here in Israel that there might be a new wave of Russian oligarchs, Russian elite, who will try to leave Russia and come

to Israel.

Do you think they should be allowed in?

NEVZLIN (from captions): Israel should minimally apply the economic sanctions. They should be cut off from society.

GOLD (voice-over): Prime minister Naftali Bennett has tried to mediate and not directly criticize Putin. And while Israel condemned Russia's invasion

and is sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine, it has not imposed economic sanctions against Russia.

But it pledges it won't become a route to bypass other countries' sanctions. Nevzlin says he's a proud Israeli citizen and Jew but says

Israel needs to do more to support Ukraine and have a more generous refugee policy to all, whether Jewish or not.

GOLD: So you do seem a little bit ashamed of the Israeli government, how they're handling everything, from the politics to the refugees.

What do you hope will change, then, in the next few days, weeks?

NEVZLIN (from captions): I think society needs to push the government.


GOLD: You said you hope one day to be able to reclaim your Russian citizenship.

What will it take for you to get there?

Does Putin need to be gone?

NEVZLIN (from captions): If I were to be offered Ukrainian citizenship, I would consider that a great honor.

GOLD (voice-over): Until then, one less citizenship in hand, Nevzlin says he will continue to work trying to democratize Russia from the outside.


GOLD: One thing about Nevzlin, he doesn't think Putin will or should be overthrown by the elites, by the oligarchs. He thinks regime change needs

to happen by a popular revolution, because, he says, the collective mentality in Russia needs to change -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Fascinating. Thank you.

Coming up, CNN goes inside bomb-ravaged areas outside of Kyiv, as evidence suggests that innocent civilians have been intentionally targeted.

Also ahead, investors gear up for the White House to potentially unleash a record amount of crude oil from the U.S. strategic reserve, as it is known.

How the plan has already affected global oil markets. That on the day that OPEC+ meets to decide on production levels. All that coming up after this.




ANDERSON: Welcome back. I'm Becky Anderson in Abu Dhabi. You're with CONNECT THE WORLD.

Ukraine's president is appealing to allies for more aid and support as Russia's brutal and unprovoked war marches on for the 36th day.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy also calling for further sanctions against Moscow during a virtual address to Australia's parliament earlier today. Australia

announcing millions more dollars in military support and increased tariffs on imports from Russia and Belarus.

Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine are set to continue online on Friday. Mr. Zelenskyy called those talks, quote, "only words," with no

concrete results.

Ukraine confirming today that Russia agreed to open an evacuation corridor for the battered port city of Mariupol, which has endured weeks of intense

bombardment. The convoy of 17 buses is on its way to help evacuate residents there.

But a Ukrainian government minister says the vehicles have been held up in a Russian checkpoint.

Meanwhile, the U.N. human rights chief says some of Russia's deeds may amount to war crimes. And areas outside of the Ukrainian capital have just

seen how brutal these attacks can be. CNN's Christiane Amanpour reports.



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice-over): Missiles have struck the town of Brovary, a suburb of Eastern Kyiv twice in the last week


This tangled, jagged mass of a metal and cladding is what's left of a massive warehouse that stored food, paper and the beer and alcohol that's

no longer allowed to be consumed under martial law.

AMANPOUR: This happened at almost exactly the same time that the Russians were announcing their de-escalation around Kyiv.

This missile struck right here. Imagine the good fortune of the truck driver who was loading up to take crates and packages and boxes of food and

supplies to the supermarkets in this town and also to Kyiv. He managed to survive.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): We are told three workers were killed but Brovary has never fallen to Russian forces.

Directly west of here, Russian and Ukrainian troops have been fiercely fighting over the town of Irpin. And now it does appear that the Russians

are retreating from here. A clear indication that this war around Kyiv has simply not gone the way Russia planned.

Whatever the reason Moscow says it's retrenching, their intercepted radio conversations, verified by "The New York Times," show their soldiers in

distress from the very start.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): I urgently need refueling, water, food supplies. This is Sirena. Over.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): This was west of the capital in Makariv, in the very first days of the war, already signaling the focus on civilians once

their own so-called properties were out of harm's way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): There was a decision made to remove the first "property" from the residential area and to cover the residential

area with artillery. Over.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): This security video shows a Russian armored vehicle just blowing up a car, instantly killing the elderly couple inside.

Ukraine has lost its fighters, too. Here in the Brovary cemetery, Boris the caretaker shows us freshly dug graves.

AMANPOUR: This guy, this soldier died on the very first day of the war.

It's raining. It's drizzling here today. It's almost as if the city is crying as it mourns its war dead. Because all of these graves are for the

fighters of this place who've fallen in combat since this war began.

This grave has been dug but the family can't yet bury their son, a soldier who was fighting in a village 15 kilometers away that's held by the

Russians. They haven't yet been able to get his body released.

And even Boris' heart breaks when he tells me about a father who's just lost his son, his only child, and who asked, "What do I have to live for

now?" -- Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Brovary, Ukraine.


ANDERSON: That's the story on the ground.

Oil prices took a sharp fall on Thursday. Both Brent and U.S. crude down after President Joe Biden said he's considering releasing a million barrels

a day from U.S. strategic reserves.

Why does this matter?

Well, it would happen over the next few months and could add up to as much as 118 million barrels of oil, just to give you an idea of how enormous

that is. In early March the U.S. announced just 30 million barrels would be released.

Late last year, Mr. Biden announced 50 million barrels, which was a record at the time. Our Jeremy Diamond is at the White House, he joins me now


If the U.S. decides to release this sort of amount of oil, what impact will it have on global oil prices?

And I ask you that, caveat, it has already had an impact, just the very idea that this is going to happen.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Yesterday, as these reports emerged that the president was considering this

move to release more oil from the U.S.' Strategic Petroleum Reserve, we saw oil prices already begin to slide. We'll see what the impact of this is


Interestingly enough, typically had the U.S. does these moves to release oils from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, it has a pretty minimal impact

on oil prices over the long term. But this could be the single largest release of oil from the U.S.' reserves in history.

You know, you mentioning a couple of the latest decisions, President Biden, over the last four months, has three times now already decided to release

oil -- or this would be the third time he has decided to release oil from those reserves.

But it would be so much larger if, indeed, the president does move forward with this plan, to release 1 million barrels of oil per day. And he could

do it for as many as six months, 180 days, 180 million barrels of oil per day (sic).


DIAMOND: That could help, at least at a minimum, to help stabilize oil prices and help stabilize gasoline prices here in the U.S., which are above

$4 a gallon and having quite an impact on Americans.

I think one thing important to note, as President Biden is set to address the country this afternoon here at the White House, is that he's also going

to frame this as Putin's price hike, Putin's gas price hike are the words we've heard so far from the White House.

It is important to note, though, that gas prices were already high before Putin's invasion of Ukraine. They have risen since. And so President Biden

also politically here looking to try and put the blame for those high oil prices, high gas prices on the Russian president.

ANDERSON: Yes, that's the point here, isn't it?

High gas prices in the States, that puts an awful lot of pressure on the White House and on Democratic lawmakers, who may be up for election in


How the war in Ukraine has an impact, of course, everywhere around the world. The White House says that President Biden told Ukrainian President

Zelenskyy that the U.S. intends to provide $0.5 billion in direct budgetary aid. This is on top of the billions of aid the Americans have

already provided for Ukraine.

What is the White House hoping to achieve with this $500 million?

DIAMOND: Yes, that's right, Becky. The White House yesterday announcing that $500 million of budgetary aid will go to Ukraine. That was the

commitment President Biden made over the phone with President Zelenskyy yesterday.

And the White House says this is aimed at helping to bolster Ukraine's economy and pay for budgetary expenses, including paying for the salaries

of government officials and helping to maintain government services.

It is notable because, even as Ukraine is under constant bombardment, it is still trying to maintain a government, to try and maintain some essential

government services for the millions of Ukrainians who have stayed in that country.

This is a small part of the broader billions and billions of dollars that the U.S. is providing to Ukrainian military, humanitarian and other

assistance. But it is something that the Ukrainians have been asking for -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Thank you, Jeremy.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson. Coming up, the stars align for Barcelona's women's football team and the crowd went wild.

Details on that after this.




ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson.

Officials in Shanghai, China, are apologizing for being caught off guard by the recent surge in COVID cases there. Their abrupt rollout of restrictions

is causing widespread chaos. Right now, all of Shanghai's 25 million residents are experiencing some sort of lockdown. Now Beijing is also

struggling to contain infections.


ANDERSON: Some workers there being forced to sleep at their desks after cases were found at their offices. Steven Jiang has more.


STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER, BEIJING BUREAU: The situation in Shanghai has become so dire and local officials actually just a few hours

apologized for being ill prepared for this surge of infections, acknowledging problems in dealing with mass testing and quarantine, as well

as providing medical care and supplies of daily necessities to millions of residents.

Now that kind of delayed mea culpa really came after days of confusion and chaos. Remember, initially they were denying they would impose a citywide

lockdown. Then, of course, it was a very flawed rollout and enforcement, leading to a lot of panic buying on the streets, which some experts have

blamed for further spreading this highly contagious Omicron variant.

And then of course, you've seen pictures of thousands of people who tested positive being crammed into hastily constructed, makeshift isolation

facilities in very crowded and primitive conditions.

And then of course, now we have harrowing tales emerge, in terms of people seeking medical care for non-COVID causes, being turned away by hospitals

that were either closed or have been dedicated to treating COVID patients. And some people have died as a result.

Last week it was a local nurse. And yesterday, it was a man suffering from a severe asthma attack. He was unable to serve receive emergency care, even

though an ambulance was parked just outside his apartment complex.

The government here has now acknowledged this tragedy and saying they have suspended the emergency doctor. But all of this, of course, is happening in

Shanghai, the country's biggest, wealthiest and long considered best- managed city. So just imagine the situation elsewhere in this country.

And all of this has also generated, for the first time, a lot of fierce debates about the science and the cost of the zero COVID policy, with a lot

of people questioning why China is still sticking to it, as the rest of the world starts to reopen and move on.

But one thing is clear amid all the confusion and controversy, that this continuation of the zero COVID policy is ordered by Chinese Leader Xi

Jinping himself, as state media has made clear. So we are very unlikely to see officials change course anytime soon -- Steven Jiang, CNN, Beijing.