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China defends policy of separating COVID-positive kids from parents in locked-down Shanghai

China extends Shanghai COVID lockdown
China puts Shanghai in COVID lockdown as it tries to mitigate cases 02:00

Shanghai — Health officials in China's most populous city have defended a policy of separating babies and young children from their parents if they test positive for COVID-19, as frustration at the city's tough virus controls builds. Around 25 million people in Shanghai, China's financial center, remained locked down on Monday as authorities try to snuff out the country's most severe coronavirus outbreak since the end of the first pandemic wave in early 2020.

Under China's unbending virus controls, anyone found positive — even if they are asymptomatic or have a mild infection — must be isolated from non-infected people. That includes children who test positive but whose family members do not, health officials confirmed on Monday, defending a policy which has spread anxiety and outrage across the city.

"If the child is younger than seven years old, those children will receive treatment in a public health center," Wu Qianyu, an official from the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission, said Monday. "For older children or teenagers... we are mainly isolating them in centralized [quarantine] places."

A medical worker takes a swab sample from a boy for nucleic acid test in Songjiang District of east China's Shanghai, April 1, 2022. Liu Ying/Xinhua/Getty

Parents and guardians have taken to social media to voice their anger at the policy.

"Parents need to meet 'conditions' to accompany their children? That's absurd... it should be their most basic right," one unnamed commenter wrote on social media platform Weibo.

Unverified videos of babies and young children in state-run wards have been widely shared.

But Shanghai official Wu said the policy was integral to virus "prevention and control work."

"We have made it clear that children whose parents are also positive... can live in the same place as the children," she added.

Frustration is mounting in Shanghai, which on Monday recorded 9,000 new COVID cases and is the epicenter of China's outbreak.

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Shanghai
Parents stand behind a tape line as they deliver bags to children at a school under lockdown, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Shanghai, China March 10, 2022. DAVID STANWAY/REUTERS

Authorities initially promised not to lock down the whole city, instead targeting virus clusters with localized lockdowns of specific compounds or districts. After weeks of growing case numbers, city officials last week gave a rare admission of failure of their tactics.

They introduced a two-stage lockdown, initially billed as lasting four days each to mass test both sides of the city.

Several days on, residents fear they are under a prolonged stay-at-home order by stealth, unable to exercise outside or walk dogs and with limited access to fresh food.

China's "zero-COVID" strategy is under extreme pressure as the virus whips across the country, with another outbreak in the northeast.

Until March, China had successfully kept the daily caseload down to double or triple digits, with harsh localized lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions.

On Monday the nationwide caseload topped 13,000 for a second day, as the daily infection tally hit rates unseen since mid-February 2020.

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