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China and Covid19

Infants with Covid-19 Separated from Parents: Shanghai ‘Baby Quarantine Site’ Sparks Online Anger

Many Weibo users think it is unnecessarily cruel for young children to be kept separate from their parents at this Shanghai quarantine location.

Manya Koetse

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Young children who tested positive for Covid-19 are separated from their parents at an infant quarantine site in Shanghai’s Jinshan District – even if the parents also tested positive for Covid. On social media, many find these anti-epidemic measures incomprehensible and “inhumane.”

On Friday, April 1st, photos and videos of an alleged quarantine site in Shanghai where babies and small children are kept in isolation – separated from their parents – went viral on Chinese social media. As some photos and videos showed multiple children together in one hospital bed, some crying incessantly, many people were concerned and angry, especially when it was rumored that there were only ten nurses to look after 200 babies.

The topic attracted much attention amidst lockdowns and heightened epidemic panic in Shanghai, where on Friday alone the city reported 6311 new Covid-19 cases, of which 270 symptomatic and 6051 asymptomatic.

On April 2nd, the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center and Shanghai Women’s Association responded to the viral photos and videos showing unaccompanied children at alleged Covid-19 isolation sites. Speaking to China Philanthropist (中国慈善家), the Women’s Association expressed concerns about the situation and said that they were taking action to “coordinate” the situation. By Saturday afternoon, a hashtag related to the issue received over 180 million views on Weibo (#上海妇联回应婴幼儿被单独隔离问题#).

The same day, the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center stated that the photos and videos circulating online were from its pediatric ward in Shanghai’s Jinshan District, emphasizing that these were scenes from the ward in the process of “adjusting and improving” their hospital environment due to an increase in child patients with Covid-19. They said the videos and photos were not of the Jinshan “baby quarantine site,” but they did not provide further details.

Since the Center also did not directly respond to the issue of children and parents being separated, many netizens were not satisfied with the official response at all. “It doesn’t matter, [what matters is that] you can’t separate children from their parents,” one top commenter replied.

A report issued by Reuters on Saturday confirmed that the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center in the city’s Jinshan District does have a quarantine site for children who tested positive for Covid-19, and that parents are not allowed to accompany the children – regardless of whether or not they also tested positive for Covid-19.

In light of the online discussions about the children’s isolation site, China Newsweek published photos on Weibo showing the actual circumstances of the infant quarantine area of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center (images below).

Although the post was supposedly meant to ‘debunk’ the ongoing rumors about the infant quarantine site, it did not seem to subside the online storm. One popular comment said: “This is the current situation? This is miserable. To be so young and without parents, even in concentration camps the kids and parents stay together.”

China Newsweek also published a story about a Shanghai mother being separated from her 2-year-old daughter after they both tested positive for Covid-19. Ms. Zhu and her child were initially transferred to Tongren Hospital on March 26, but two days later, Ms. Zhu was sent to a temporary Covid-19 field hospital while her daughter was sent to the Jinshan location. Although a chat group was set up to inform the mother of her daughter’s wellbeing, she was barely kept up to date on how her child was doing at all.

“Why can’t they just stay together? The child is just two years old!”, one person wrote. “I don’t understand the logic behind these ‘infant centralized isolation sites,'” one popular Weibo account (@云无心45) with over 4,5 million followers wrote:

“1. If the child is positive [for Covid-19], and the parents are also positive, why can’t they all quarantine together?
2. If the child is positive, but the parents are negative, let one parent stay with the child, and just add one infected person for the sake of ensuring the child’s wellbeing. Or, at the very least, at least give parents the option of looking after their own child at the isolation location.
3. If the parents are infected but the child isn’t, then it’s necessary to separate the parents and children for the sake of the child’s health.”

Others called the infant isolation sites “insane” and “inhuman.” Official channels did not provide any answers on why children and parents were being separated.

Sudden, sharp separation between parents and infants can harm and even alter a young child’s physical and emotional development. According to Jacek Debiec, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, any serious and prolonged disruption of parental care, especially in very young children, changes how the young brain develops. In this article for The Conversation, Debiec claims that young children experience a spike in stress levels when they suddenly can not rely on their parents’ presence and care anymore. According to studies, even short, abrupt separations can have a negative impact on a child’s brain.

“These kids are getting a lifelong trauma, and so are their parents,” a Weibo user named ‘Sonia’ wrote.

“It’s ok for adults to go through some hardship, but it’s not ok for kids, especially not for infants,” one woman from Shanghai writes: “Shanghai’s disease prevention policy has gone the wrong way (..), it breaks my heart.”

Others on Weibo comment on the difference in Covid-19 measures between Shanghai ad other cities: “In Shenzhen people could even quarantine together with their pets, can you imagine? The disparity is so huge, it’s inconceivable.”

In January of this year, when Xi’an was fighting against a Covid-19 outbreak, news of a 3-year-old child being taken away after testing positive for Covid-19 went viral online (see tweet below).

At the time, the child’s quarantine and treatment drew the attention of netizens who felt for the little patient, but the story was not controversial – the hospital ended up placing the 3-year-old old in the same ward as his mother.

The Shanghai ‘infant quarantine site’, on the other hand, is even controversial after an official explanation was provided in light of the videos and photos. One Weibo commenter responded:

“As someone who used to work for the media, I’m already trying as much as possible to rationally look at the news and stay calm and analytical. But, I’m sorry, I’m also a mom. This afternoon, the so-called mainstream media in big litters said they “debunked” the content below, but what exactly did they refute? Did they refute that this wasn’t happening at Jinshan? What exactly does the simple sentence of ‘care for life is guaranteed’ promise? If the online rumors that there are only two nurses to take care of dozens of children are not true, then how many nurses are taking care of so many children? How do you achieve the “strengthening of communication between children and parents”? How do you communicate that to children who are just a few months old? They have a fever, they are thirsty, their diapers won’t stay on, they have a rash that itches, they can’t talk, how do you make sure they are taken care of?”

Among hundreds of comments, many outraged and many sad, there are also a lot of comments that are short and clear: “Just bring the children back to their mums.”

Update April 6: Shanghai officially announced that parents can apply to accompany their children during central quarantine after signing an agreement, regardless of whether they’ve tested positive for the virus or not. Read more on this policy change here at Shanghai Daily.

To read more about online responses to the Covid-19 measures in Shanghai, click here.

By Manya Koetse

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

The “Final Round Players” of China’s Covid Outbreak

Those who still haven’t had Covid have made it to the “finals,” but it’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative.

Manya Koetse

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This Chinese Lunar New Year period, as millions of people are traveling across the country, Hangzhou Daily (杭州日报) posted a video on Weibo of a 13-year-old boy dressed in full protective clothing at the Hangzhou train station.

The young man told the reporter that he was on his way to visit his grandparents for the Chinese New Year. When asked why he was dressed in protective clothing from head to toe, he answered: “Because I haven’t had Covid yet.”

According to the video posted by Hangzhou Daily, the boy has made it to the “Final Rounds” (决赛圈) as he has managed to stay Covid-negative at a time when so many people have already been infected with Covid-19 (#挺进决赛圈的男孩穿防护服坐火车#).

Since China ‘optimized’ the last stringent measures of its ‘Zero Covid’ policy back in early December – including an end to mandatory mass testing, – a wave of Covid infections spread across the country. The number of infections and emergency department visits reportedly reached its peak in late December of 2022 and in early January of 2023.

According to Wu Zunyou (@吴尊友ChinaCDC), chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of China’s population has now been infected with Covid (“这一波疫情已经使得全国约80%的人感染过”).

As it is getting rarer to come across someone who has not had Covid yet, travelers dressed in full hazmat suits and protective gear are bound to stand out. “So many people on the train, and there are still two people in the crowd wearing protective clothing,” one Weibo user from Guangdong wrote. Others also post photos on social media of some of the few travelers still fully dressed in protective gear.

One blogger photographed a child wearing protective clothing at Chongqing West Station on Jan. 24, calling the protective attire “exaggerated,” and wondering how the child was supposed to go to the toilet.

Photo posted on Weibo by @杨品-光线摄影学院 on Jan 24., 2023.

Traveler wearing protective clothing at Hangzhou East Station, photo by @百鸣老屈.

Hangzhou Daily is not the only media outlet dubbing those who managed to stay negative “final round players” (决赛圈选手). In early January, Beijing Daily (北京日报​​​​) and People’s Daily (人民日报) also published a short article using the same phrase. In the article, the Beijing expert physician Dr. Li Dong (李侗) answered some questions about the so-called ‘finalists.’

According to Dr. Li Dong, some of the people who claim to have managed to stay ‘Covid free’ were never infected due to protective measures. But there are also those who may have actually had Covid-19 without realizing it, as they barely had any symptoms or were completely asymptomatic.

“Final round players, protect yourself!” one Weibo commenter writes: “Who else has managed to reach these finals?”

“As a ‘final player,’ I finally went out to eat and visit the shopping mall today. I’ll have to wait and see if I reach the championship level. If I haven’t caught [Covid], I can go on and lead a normal life; if I did catch it, I’ll need to wait a while, and will also be able to lead a normal life.”

Other persons who did not have Covid yet also share on social media that they went out for the first time during this Spring Festival period: “I cautiously went out and saw my first movie in 2023, Wandering Earth II, I picked a morning screening so that the cinema is not so crowded yet.”

Now that the Covid infections in China have peaked and the number of infected critically ill patients is quickly dropping, the fears over catching Covid are also seemingly fading among those who were not yet infected.

But some people who have not had Covid yet are still being careful, especially if it concerns elderly family members. It’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative – also for loved ones who did previously have Covid and want to protect their family.

One Fujian-based social media user writes: “I recovered from Covid and I’m spending the Spring Festival with three ‘final round players.’ We’ve been stuck inside the house for days. I’ve been looking at the lanterns and the lights in the neighborhood, watching them from the balcony, and I really wanted to go down and see.”

“Looking at WeChat Moments, all my friends are out traveling, but my family still hasn’t had Covid and we’re afraid to go out,” another netizen writes: “It’s sad to celebrate the New Year without going out. Guess we’re final-round players now, let’s hope it brings good things.”

Meanwhile, the group of ‘finalists’ is still shrinking. One Weibo user from Guangxi wrote: “I’ve left the finalist circle. It’s only been two days since I returned to my hometown and I’m already infected.”

By Manya Koetse 

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China and Covid19

Video Shows Real-Time “Departure” Information Board at Chinese Crematorium

From “cremation in process” to “cooling down,” the digital display shows the progress of the cremation to provide information to those waiting in the lobby. The crematorium ‘departure’ board strikes a chord with many.

Manya Koetse

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A video showing a live display screen announcing the names and status of the deceased at a Yunnan crematorium has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, from WeChat to Weibo, where one version of the video received over 1,7 million views.

Somewhat similar to a real-time platform departure display on train stations, the screen shows the waiting number of the deceased person, their name, gender, the name of the lounge/room (if any) for families, the name of the crematorium chamber, and the status of the cremation process. Below in the screen, it says “the final journey of a warm life” (温暖人生的最后旅程).

For example, the screen displays the names of a Mr. Chen and a Mr. Li; their bodies were in the process of being cremated (火化中), while other cremations were marked as “completed” (完成) or “cooling down” (降温中).

Through such a screen, located in the crematorium lobby, family members and loved ones can learn about the progress of the cremation of the deceased.

The video, recorded by a local on Jan. 7, received many comments. Among them, some people commented on the information board itself, while others simply expressed grief over those who died and the fragility of life. Many felt the display was confronting and it made them emotional.

“It makes me really sad that this how people’s lives end,” one commenter said, with another person replying that the display also shows you still need to wait in line even when you’re dead.

“I didn’t expect the screens [in the crematorium] to be like those in hospitals, where patients are waiting for their turn,” another Weibo user wrote. “It would be better if the names were hidden, like in the hospitals, to protect the privacy of the deceased,” another person replied.

Others shared their own experiences at funeral parlors also using such information screens.

Another ‘departure display’ at a Chinese crematorium, image shared by Weibo user.

“My grandfather passed away last September, and when we were at the undertaker’s, the display was also jumping from one name to the other and we could only comfort ourselves knowing that he was among those who lived a relatively long life.”

“Such a screen, it really makes me sad,” another commenter from Guangxi wrote, with others writing: “It’s distressing technology.”

Although the information screen at the crematorium is a novelty for many commenters, the phenomenon itself is not necessarily related to the Covid outbreak and the number of Covid-related deaths; some people share how they have seen them in crematoriums before, and funeral parlor businesses have used them to provide information to families since at least 2018.

According to an article published by Sohu News, more people – especially younger ones – have visited a funeral home for the first time in their lives recently due to the current Covid wave, also making it the first time for them to come across such a digital display.

The online video of such an information board has made an impact at a time when crematoriums are crowded and families report waiting for days to bury or cremate their loved ones, with especially a large number of elderly people dying due to Covid.

On Jan. 4, one social media user from Liaoning wrote:

I really suggest that the experts go to the crematoriums to take a look. There is no place to put the deceased, they’re parked outside in temporary containers, there’s no time left to hold a farewell ceremony and you can only directly cremate, and for those who were able to have a ceremony, they need to finish within ten minutes (..) At the funeral parlor’s big screen, there were eight names on every page, and there were ten pages for all the people in line that day, I stood there for half an hour and didn’t see the name of the person I was waiting for pop up anymore.”

As the video of the display in the crematorium travels around the internet, many commenters suggest that it is not necessarily the real-time ‘departure’ board itself that bothers them, but how it shows the harsh reality of death by listing the names of the deceased and their cremation status behind it. Perhaps it is the contrast between the technology of the digital display boards and the reality of the human vulnerability that it represents that strikes a chord with people.

One blogger who reposted the video on Jan. 13 wrote: “Life is short, cherish the present, let’s cherish what we have and love yourself, love your family, and love this world.” Among dozens of replies, some indicate that the video makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another commenter also wrote:

I just saw a video that showed an electronic display at a crematorium, rolling out the names of the deceased and the stage of the cremation. One name represents the ending of a life. And it just hit me, and my tears started flowing. I’m afraid of parting, I’m afraid of loss, I just want the people I love and who love me to stay by my side forever. I don’t want to leave. I’m afraid I’ll be alone one day, and that nobody will ever make me feel warm again.”

One person captured why the information board perhaps causes such unease: “The final moments that people still spent on this earth take place on the electronic screen in the memorial hall of the funeral home. Then, they are gone without a sound.”

 

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By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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