Shanghai eases child separation policy but extends Covid-19 lockdown

Workers in protective suits direct residents lining up for Covid-19 testing in Shanghai on April 4, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - Guardians of children with special needs who are infected with Covid-19 can apply to escort them, a Shanghai city official said on Wednesday (April 6), pointing to a relaxation of a child-separation policy that has triggered widespread public anger.

The city has been separating Covid-positive children from their parents, citing epidemic prevention measures. China's elimination strategy against Covid-19 sees it test, trace and centrally quarantine all cases.

In the face of rising public criticism, the government said on Monday it would allow children to be accompanied by their parents if the parents were also infected, but that they would still separate them if they were not. This prompted further public anger.

On Wednesday, when asked at a news conference, Shanghai health official Wu Ganyu said the government would start allowing guardians of some infected children with special needs to accompany them.

However, they must sign a letter stating that they are aware of the risks and will be required to comply with protection measures such masks and not sharing household items with the children, he added.

The comments brought widespread public relief, especially among parents, though some questioned why there was still a need to apply.

A hashtag on the subject on China’s Weibo social media platform drew more than 40 million views by Wednesday afternoon.

"This is the right thing to do, carry out management in a humane way," said one widely liked Weibo comment.

Shanghai also said on Wednesday it would conduct another round of citywide tests, a mix of antigen and nucleic acid testing.

Movement curbs on residents will continue until it can evaluate testing results, officials said.

There are signs that the curbs, which were initially scheduled to last about five days for most, are fraying residents’ nerves. Many are beginning to worry about food and drinking water, as supermarkets remain shut and deliveries are restricted.

Some have complained of having to wake up at dawn for a chance at booking a grocery delivery, but finding them sold out within seconds. Others have turned to community WeChat groups to try to bulk buy fruit and vegetables.

Ms Liu Min, vice-head of Shanghai’s commerce commission, told reporters that authorities were working hard to resolve bottlenecks and take care of the "basic living needs" of the population.

She said efforts would be made to ship food and other necessities to Shanghai from other provinces, and to build emergency supply stations in and around the city to ensure vegetable supplies. But she said the biggest challenge was getting deliveries to homes.

Shanghai will also work to “release delivery capacity”, saying the 11,000 riders working for major e-commerce platforms in the city could go to work if they submitted daily negative Covid-19 nucleic acid and antigen tests, she added.

Authorities will deploy more specialised medical staff to handle the admission of such children and will establish special areas for them to stay in to improve care, he said.

The major Chinese financial centre of Shanghai reported 16,766 new asymptomatic coronavirus cases and 311 new symptomatic cases on April 5, the local government said on Wednesday.

The number of asymptomatic cases was up from 13,086 a day earlier. Symptomatic cases also rose from 268.

While the city’s case numbers remain small by global standards, Shanghai has emerged as a test bed for China’s Covid-19 elimination "dynamic clearance" strategy, which seeks to test, trace and centrally quarantine all positive cases as well as their close contacts.

The city has set up 62 temporary quarantine sites at hotels, stadiums and exhibition centres, and is also converting the 150,000-square-metre National Convention and Exhibition Center into a facility that can hold 40,000 people.

Analysts say the impact of the current restrictions on the economy is mounting, especially for small businesses, with nearly 200 million people across China under some sort of lockdown, according to estimates by Nomura.

Activity in China’s services sector shrunk at the steepest pace in two years in March as the local surge in coronavirus cases restricted mobility and weighed on client demand, a private sector survey showed on Wednesday.

The tourism sector is also under pressure. The number of journeys taken over China’s three-day Tomb Sweeping Festival holiday tumbled by nearly two-thirds from last year, state media said, and was also lower than 2020, when the country was still recovering from the first outbreak in Wuhan.

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