In Shanghai, strict covid rules separate children from parents


“I searched for any sight of my daughter in the video but couldn’t find her,” said the mother, who asked to be identified only by her surname, Zhu.

Ms. Zhu said she had been separated from her 2½-year-old daughter on Tuesday after they tested positive for Covid in Shanghai, home of what is quickly becoming China’s biggest coronavirus outbreak in more than two years.

In the following days, Ms. Zhu said she was left with virtually no news or photos of her daughter, who she said was sent to a separate facility for Covid-infected children and infants.

After seeing the video, she said she couldn’t sleep, overcome with worry about her daughter.

Social-media users who uploaded the widely circulated footage of the children described it as coming from a facility in Shanghai’s southwestern Jinshan district designated for Covid-infected children.

The hospital it purported to show, the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center, said in a statement on Saturday that some photos and videos circulating online captured scenes of the hospital’s pediatric ward in the midst of a transfer to another building, prompted by an increase in infected children in recent days, suggesting that the situation was temporary.

The hospital also said in the statement that the children were being treated and cared for and that it was seeking to improve communication with parents.

A hospital representative said the hospital declined to comment beyond the statement.

The Shanghai woman who originally posted the footage online, who described herself as the mother of a 6-year-old boy at the Jinshan facility, later removed the video from her account. Earlier posts on her account had described the video as having been sent to her by a volunteer at the hospital. She didn’t reply to requests for comment made through her social-media account. Her name couldn’t be determined.

On Saturday, Zeng Qun, deputy head of the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, said at a press conference that some children have been temporarily separated from parents who have been infected or barred from returning home due to lockdowns. Mr. Zeng called this a “gut-wrenching problem” and urged authorities to help address the situation swiftly.

Shanghai, a megacity of more than 25 million people, has been locked down in a two-phase quarantine that began last week. On Sunday, the city added a daily record of more than 8,200 new locally transmitted infections for the previous day, bringing the total cases to more than 50,000 since March 1.

Public frustration aimed at Shanghai’s crushing Covid controls has been mounting online as lockdowns in some parts of the city approach the one-month mark. Some residents have been denied basic medical care as the city’s healthcare system is stretched to the limits.

Though no Covid deaths have yet been officially reported in the city, at least two elder-care facilities in Shanghai have suffered surges in Covid cases in recent weeks, leading to multiple deaths, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

One mother in Shanghai who also only wanted to be identified by her surname, Zhang, said in an interview that her 2-year-old boy was taken away from her on Monday after the child and both parents tested positive for Covid-19. Since her son was sent to the facility in Jinshan, Ms. Zhang, who is being treated at another hospital, said she has received only one phone call, to ask about his medical history, from the doctors in Jinshan.

The hospital representative declined to comment on individual cases, referring to the hospital’s statement.

Ms. Zhang said the next time she saw her 2-year-old was when the video went viral on China’s internet.

“It was only two seconds but I recognized him immediately,” Ms. Zhang said.

She said she has been in touch with other mothers whose children are at the same facility.

“It’s not just about us. Infants being covered under blankets in the footage was so hard to watch. I can’t bear to listen to their crying,” said Ms. Zhang, a native of the inland province of Anhui.

For her part, Ms. Zhu said she and her daughter, who live in the western half of Shanghai, which entered lockdown on Friday, tested positive for Covid on March 26 and were accepted for treatment the same day at Shanghai Tongren Hospital.

In the early hours of March 29, Ms. Zhu said, a doctor there sent her a message asking if she would be willing to send her daughter to a separate facility for infected children in Jinshan district.

“I rejected them immediately,” Ms. Zhu said in a phone interview.

Hours later, Ms. Zhu said, Tongren Hospital staff called to say they would move her to a separate quarantine center for adults. After speaking to her husband, Ms. Zhu said she reluctantly agreed to have their daughter transferred to the Jinshan facility.

Over the next four days, she said, the hospital staff at Jinshan didn’t offer any updates about her daughter, though they did answer roughly one out of every four or five questions she sent them.

“I can’t take it any more. I beg you, please give my daughter back to me,” she wrote to a doctor at the Jinshan facility on the messaging app WeChat early Saturday. According to screenshots of the exchange reviewed by the Journal, the doctor told her they had no choice but to comply with healthcare regulations.

The hospital representative declined to comment on individual cases, referring to the statement the hospital had put out. Attempts to reach the doctor were unsuccessful.

Ms. Zhu said she was worried about the psychological impact on her daughter, who has never been separated from her family for so long.

Just before noon on Saturday, she said she received a video from the hospital: It was her daughter, the first glimpse she had received in four days. In the video, a doctor standing by her daughter’s bed told her to smile. A nurse asked her daughter if she treated her well and told her to nod if so.

“My heart aches seeing this. My daughter’s facial expression was very stiff. She looked very confused and unnatural,” said Ms. Zhu, who still doesn’t know when she will have a chance to see her daughter again.

As for Ms. Zhang, whose husband is being treated at a different facility in Shanghai, her only wish is for the family to be together again soon.

“The virus is not scary at this point,” said Ms. Zhang, who is suffering only mild symptoms. “Separation from my loved ones scares me more than anything else.”

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