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Shanghai separates COVID-positive children from parents in virus fight

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SHANGHAI, April 2 (Reuters) – Esther Zhao thought she was doing the right thing when she brought her 2.5-year-old daughter to a Shanghai hospital with a fever on March 26.

Three days later, Zhao pleaded with health authorities not to separate them after she and the baby girl both tested positive for COVID-19, saying her daughter was too young to be taken to a quarantine center for children.

The doctors then threatened Zhao that her daughter would be left in the hospital, as she was sent to the center, if she did not agree to transfer the girl to the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center in the Jinshan district of the city. town.

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Since then, she has received only a brief message that her daughter is fine, sent via a group chat with doctors, despite repeated requests for information from Zhao and her husband, which can be found in a site separate quarantine after also testing positive.

“There have been no pictures at all…I’m so anxious, I have no idea what situation my daughter is in,” she said in tears on Saturday, still stuck in the hospital she went to last week. “The doctor said Shanghai rules are that children should be sent to designated points, adults to quarantine centers, and you are not allowed to accompany children.”

Zhao is panicking even more after images of crying children at a Shanghai health facility went viral in China. The anonymous poster said they were children who had tested positive for COVID and had been separated from their parents at the Jinshan center.

Photos and videos posted on Chinese social media platforms Weibo and Douyin showed crying babies held three to a bed. In one video, a whimpering toddler walks out of a room with four children’s beds pushed up against the wall. While a few adults can be seen in the videos, they outnumber the number of children.

Reuters could not immediately verify the footage, but a source close to the facility confirmed that it was taken at the Jinshan facility.

The Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center, however, said the photos and videos circulating on the internet were not a “Jinshan infant quarantine facility”, but were scenes taken when the hospital moved its pediatric ward to another. building to cope with increasing numbers of COVID. pediatric patients.

This was done to “improve the hospital environment”, he said on his official WeChat account on Saturday.

“Paediatric patients admitted to our hospital… have guaranteed medical treatment and their daily needs are taken care of,” he said. “Currently, we have organized more pediatric health workers to adjust pediatric services, optimize the administrative process, improve service management, strengthen communication with children’s parents, and do a better job.”

The Shanghai government referred Reuters to the hospital’s statement and declined to comment further.

A Shanghai health official said last week that hospitals treating COVID-positive children were maintaining online communications with their parents, according to the government’s official WeChat account.

As Shanghai, China’s most populous city and major financial hub, battles the biggest COVID outbreak in its history, stories like Zhao’s and videos of separated children are angering locals and raising concerns. questions about the costs of Beijing’s “dynamic clearance” policy to fight the spread of the disease.

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On Saturday, the original post had been deleted from Weibo, but thousands of people continued to comment and repost the images. “It’s awful,” said one. “How could the government come up with such a plan? said another.

In some cases, children as young as 3 months old are being separated from their breastfeeding mothers, according to posts in a WeChat group from a quarantine hospital shared with Reuters. In a room described in an article, there are eight children without an adult.

In another case, more than 20 children from a Shanghai kindergarten aged 5 to 6 were sent to a quarantine center without their parents, a source familiar with the matter said.

Since Shanghai’s latest outbreak began about a month ago, authorities have locked down its 26 million people in a two-step process that began on Monday.

As the number of cases in Shanghai is low by global standards, Chinese authorities have pledged to stick to “dynamic clearance”, aimed at centrally testing, tracing and quarantining all positive cases. .

Foreign consulates in the United States, France and Italy have warned their citizens in Shanghai that family separations could occur as Chinese authorities enforce COVID restrictions, according to notices seen by Reuters.

Shanghai reported 6,051 locally transmitted COVID-19 asymptomatic cases and 260 symptomatic cases as of April 1 on Saturday, compared with 4,144 asymptomatic cases and 358 symptomatic cases the day before.

Mainland China reported 2,129 new cases, down from 1,827.

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Reporting by Brenda Goh and Engen Tham, additional reporting by Winni Zhou; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and William Mallard

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.