Shanghai eases child separation policy but extends COVID lockdown

Shanghai on Wednesday made some concessions to the largely unpopular COVID child separation policy, alluding to growing popular frustration as it extends the city’s lockdown that has left some residents struggling to survive.

The lockdown in China’s most populous city, which began 10 days ago in parts of Shanghai and has since expanded to confine nearly all 26 million residents to their homes, has severely disrupted daily life and business.

Public criticism of the lockdowns, part of Beijing’s elimination strategy, ranges from complaints about overcrowded and unsanitary quarantine centers to difficulties buying food or accessing medical treatment.

But the most controversial policy was Shanghai’s practice of separating COVID-positive children from their parents, which was highlighted on Saturday and sparked widespread anger across the country.

In the face of such criticism, the Shanghai government said two days ago it would ease this policy slightly to allow parents to accompany children if they are also infected. However, children continue to be separated from parents who were not COVID-positive, fueling further complaints.

On Wednesday, a Shanghai health official said guardians of children with special needs and those infected with COVID can now request to accompany them but must follow certain rules and sign a letter saying they are aware of the risks.

He gave no further details and the Shanghai government did not immediately respond to a request for comment for clarification.

The comments were met with general relief from the public, particularly parents, although some questioned why it was still necessary to apply. A hashtag on the topic on the Chinese social media platform Weibo was viewed more than 40 million times as of Wednesday afternoon.

“It is the right thing to do in a humane way to manage,” said a widely appreciated Weibo comment.

THE FIGHT TO BUY FOOD

Shanghai also said Wednesday it would conduct another round of testing across the city, a panorama of antigen and nucleic acid testing. Restrictions on movement for residents will continue until she can assess test results, officials said.

There are signs the restrictions, which were originally expected to last around five days for most residents, are making residents nervous. Many are worried about food and drinking water as supermarkets remain closed and supplies are restricted.

Some have complained about having to get up at the crack of dawn to book a meal delivery only to find they sold out in seconds. Others have turned to WeChat community groups to try and bulk-buy fruits and vegetables.

Liu Min, vice chairwoman of the Shanghai Trade Commission, told reporters that the authorities are working hard to clear bottlenecks and take care of people’s “basic necessities.”

She said efforts are being made to transport food and other necessities from other provinces to Shanghai and to set up emergency supply stations in and around the city to ensure vegetable supplies. But she said the biggest challenge is getting deliveries home.

Shanghai will also try to “free up delivery capacities”. She added that the 11,000 runners who work for the city’s major e-commerce platforms could return to work if they tested negative for nucleic acid and COVID antigen daily.

INCREASING ECONOMIC PRESSURE

Shanghai detected a record 16,766 new asymptomatic coronavirus cases on April 5, up from 13,086 the previous day. The number of symptomatic cases also rose to 311 from 268 the previous day.

Though the number of cases in the city remains low by global standards, Shanghai has emerged as a testing ground for China’s “dynamic release” COVID elimination strategy, which aims to test and trace back all positive cases and their close contacts and quarantined centrally.

The city has set up 62 temporary quarantine stations in hotels, stadiums and exhibition centers, and is also in the process of converting the 150,000-square-foot National Convention and Exhibition Center into a facility that can accommodate 40,000 people.

Analysts say the impact of the current restrictions on the economy is growing, especially for small businesses, as Nomura estimates that nearly 200 million people across China are under some form of lockdown.

Activity in China’s services sector fell at its fastest pace in two years in March as a local spike in coronavirus cases restricted mobility and weighed on customer demand, an industry survey revealed by priv released on Wednesday.

The tourism sector is also under pressure. The number of trips during the three-day holiday of China’s Tomb Sweeping Festival fell by almost two-thirds from a year earlier, according to state media, and was also lower than in 2020, when the country was still recovering from the first Wuhan outbreak.

Nationwide as of April 5, there were 1,415 new confirmed cases of coronavirus, up from 1,235 the day before, including 1,383 locally transmitted cases, the National Health Commission said.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China counts separately, stood at 19,199, up from 15,355 the day before.

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