Photos and videos showing young children isolated from their families and crying in a Shanghai hospital sparked an outburst of anger online on Saturday, as China’s largest city struggled to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Omicron version of the coronavirus.
In the footage, a series of hospital beds, each containing several young children, appeared to be parked in the hallway of the Shanghai Public Health Clinic Center in Jinshan District. A video showed several of the children crying.
The images and video could not be independently verified, but in a statement the health center said they were real and did not deny that parents with Covid were separated from their children.
Parents’ fury and concern over what might become of their children if they fall ill is the latest in a series of crises facing officials in Shanghai, which are in the midst of a staggered lockdown to ease the mass testing in the city. Things did not go smoothly. Lockdowns differed by neighborhood, panic buying emptied grocery shelves, and people with life-threatening illnesses posted calls for help online when they couldn’t get to hospitals.
The whole process was also opaque. Residents complain they received little notice of neighborhood closures, which have been repeatedly extended in some districts. National reports of an outbreak at an elderly care center disappeared from the internet on Saturday.
In Shanghai, anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus, whether their symptoms are severe or not, must self-isolate at a designated hospital or facility. The practice has worried parents, who fear their children will be separated from them if they are forced into self-isolation.
A woman who said her 2-year-old daughter was locked inside the Jinshan Clinical Center called the situation “completely inhumane” in a phone interview. The woman, Lucy Zhu, a 39-year-old mother from Shanghai, went to Shanghai Tongren Hospital with her daughter after feeling unwell last week. Shortly after testing positive for coronavirus and beginning her isolation in hospital, she was separated from her daughter.
Then on Tuesday, her daughter was transferred to Jinshan Center, and Ms. Zhu was told that she could not accompany her. From then until Saturday morning, she had been unable to establish direct contact with her daughter. Although officials said her daughter was fine, they did not provide any evidence.
“The doctor sent me a video at noon today,” Ms. Zhu said on Saturday. “In the whole room there was only one nurse, but I saw about ten minors.”
In a statement, the health center said the children were being moved to a new, expanded pediatric center and that the center was not an isolation center for children, as claimed online.
Ms. Zhu said that the statement did not solve the main problem. “Is this an isolation facility for children, the main thing?” she asked angrily. “Could they treat children like this if it’s not a child isolation point?” What’s the point of clearing up the rumor like that?
Having seen the plight of toddlers separated from their parents spread on Chinese social media, Irene Yang took matters into her own hands and phoned the center on Friday. During the call, which she recorded and then posted on Weibo, Ms Yang, a 28-year-old mother, nearly burst into tears, fearing the same situation could happen to her as the coronavirus continues to ravage Shanghai.
A woman who answered Ms Yang’s call told her there could be a “lag” between when the children were transferred before the parents could see them.
With a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter at home, Ms Yang said she could “not be reassured and let them go anywhere alone, whether for medical treatment or an isolation, no matter what the situation is.
“For us, it’s good if we can be with our children even if they are infected, but you can’t take the children alone. All of this is inappropriate and unreasonable whether they are 10 years old, 5 years old, 3 years old or 1 year old. If not, why do we have legal guardians in place? »
A woman who picked up the phone at the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center on Saturday declined to comment further.
An article in the state-run China Philanthropist newspaper describes a child separated from her mother and father after being sent to separate isolation hospitals. The article quoted the girl’s mother as expressing concern about her daughter after not receiving any photos of her or other forms of communication from doctors. The government-affiliated Shanghai Women’s Federation said on Saturday it was reviewing the situation.
Zeng Qun, deputy director of the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, acknowledged at a press conference on Saturday that infected adults may need to be separated from their children. He described the issue as “heartbreaking” and something that needs to be “resolved well”.
With designated township and ward-level child protection officers already in place, Mr. Zeng said that in situations like this, they are required to “respond quickly and take physical and mental safety. children as the first principle, and to provide rapid response and emergency assistance services.