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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



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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Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of 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 Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

Repurposing China’s Abandoned Nucleic Acid Booths: 10 Innovative Transformations

Abandoned nucleic acid booths are getting a second life through these new initiatives.

Manya Koetse



During the pandemic, nucleic acid testing booths in Chinese cities were primarily focused on maintaining physical distance. Now, empty booths are being repurposed to bring people together, serving as new spaces to serve the community and promote social engagement.

Just months ago, nucleic acid testing booths were the most lively spots of some Chinese cities. During the 2022 Shanghai summer, for example, there were massive queues in front of the city’s nucleic acid booths, as people needed a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours for accessing public transport, going to work, or visiting markets and malls.

The word ‘hésuān tíng‘ (核酸亭), nucleic acid booth (also:核酸采样小屋), became a part of China’s pandemic lexicon, just like hésuān dìtú (核酸地图), the nucleic acid test map lauched in May 2022 that would show where you can get a nucleic test.

Example of nucleic acid test map.

During Halloween parties in Shanghai in 2022, some people even came dressed up as nucleic test booths – although local authorities could not appreciate the creative costume.

Halloween 2022: dressed up as nucliec acid booths. Via @manyapan twitter.

In December 2022, along with the announced changed rules in China’s ‘zero Covid’ approach, nucleic acid booths were suddenly left dismantled and empty.

With many cities spending millions to set up these booths in central locations, the question soon arose: what should they do with the abandoned booths?

This question also relates to who actually owns them, since the ownership is mixed. Some booths were purchased by authorities, others were bought by companies, and there are also local communities owning their own testing booths. Depending on the contracts and legal implications, not all booths are able to get a new function or be removed yet (Worker’s Daily).

In Tianjin, a total of 266 nucleic acid booths located in Jinghai District were listed for public acquisition earlier this month, and they were acquired for 4.78 million yuan (US$683.300) by a local food and beverage company which will transform the booths into convenience service points, selling snacks or providing other services.

Tianjin is not the only city where old nucleic acid testing booths are being repurposed. While some booths have been discarded, some companies and/or local governments – in cooperation with local communities – have demonstrated creativity by transforming the booths into new landmarks. Since the start of 2023, different cities and districts across China have already begun to repurpose testing booths. Here, we will explore ten different way in which China’s abandoned nucleic test booths get a second chance at a meaningful existence.


1: Pharmacy/Medical Booths

Via ‘copyquan’ republished on Sohu.

Blogger ‘copyquan’ recently explored various ways in which abandoned PCR testing points are being repurposed.

One way in which they are used is as small pharmacies or as medical service points for local residents (居民医疗点). Alleviating the strain on hospitals and pharmacies, this was one of the earliest ways in which the booths were repurposed back in December of 2022 and January of 2023.

Chongqing, Tianjin, and Suzhou were among earlier cities where some testing booths were transformed into convenient medical facilities.


2: Market Stalls

Market stalls instead of nucliec acid testing booths. Image via Sina.

In Suzhou, Jiangsu province, the local government transformed vacant nucleic acid booths into market stalls for the Spring Festival in January 2022, offering them free of charge to businesses to sell local products, snacks, and traditional New Year goods.

The idea was not just meant as a way for small businesses to conveniently sell to local residents, it was also meant as a way to attract more shoppers and promote other businesses in the neighborhood.


3: Community Service Center

Small grid community center in Shizhuang Village, image via Sohu.

Some residential areas have transformed their local nucleic acid testing booths into community service centers, offering all kinds of convenient services to neighborhood residents.

These little station are called wǎnggé yìzhàn (网格驿站) or “grid service stations,” and they can serve as small community centers where residents can get various kinds of care and support.


4: “Refuel” Stations

In February of this year, 100 idle nucleic acid sampling booths were transformed into so-called “Rider Refuel Stations” (骑士加油站) in Zhejiang’s Pinghu. Although it initially sounds like a place where delivery riders can fill up their fuel tanks, it is actually meant as a place where they themselves can recharge.

Delivery riders and other outdoor workers can come to the ‘refuel’ station to drink some water or tea, warm their hands, warm up some food and take a quick nap.


5: Free Libraries

image via sohu.

In various Chinese cities, abandoned nucleic acid booths have been transformed into little free libraries where people can grab some books to read, donate or return other books, and sit down for some reading.

Changzhou is one of the places where you’ll find such “drifting bookstores” (漂流书屋) (see video), but similar initiatives have also been launched in other places, including Suzhou.


6: Study Space

Photos via Copyquan’s article on Sohu.

Another innovative way in which old testing points are being repurposed is by turning them into places where students can sit together to study. The so-called “Let’s Study Space” (一间习吧), fully airconditioned, are opened from 8 in the morning until 22:00 at night.

Students – or any citizens who would like a nice place to study – can make online reservations with their ID cards and scan a QR code to enter the study rooms.

There are currently ten study booths in Anji, and the popular project is an initiative by the Anji County Library in Zhejiang (see video).


7: Beer Kiosk

Hoegaarden beer shop, image via Creative Adquan.

Changing an old nucleic acid testing booth into a beer bar is a marketing initiative by the Shanghai McCann ad agency for the Belgium beer brand Hoegaarden.

The idea behind the bar is to celebrate a new spring after the pandemic. The ad agency has revamped a total of six formr nucleic acid booths into small Hoegaarden ‘beer gardens.’


8: Police Box

In Taizhou City, Jiangsu Province, authorities have repurposed old testing booths and transformed them into ‘police boxes’ (警务岗亭) to enhance security and improve the visibility of city police among the public.

Currently, a total of eight vacant nucleic acid booths have been renovated into modern police stations, serving as key points for police presence and interaction with the community.


9: Lottery Ticket Booths

Image via The Paper

Some nucleic acid booths have now been turned into small shops selling lottery tickets for the China Welfare Lottery. One such place turning the kiosks into lottery shops is Songjiang in Shanghai.

Using the booths like this is a win-win situation: they are placed in central locations so it is more convenient for locals to get their lottery tickets, and on the other hand, the sales also help the community, as the profits are used for welfare projects, including care for the elderly.


10: Mini Fire Stations

Micro fire stations, images via ZjNews.

Some communities decided that it would be useful to repurpose the testing points and turn them into mini fire kiosks, just allowing enough space for the necessary equipment to quickly respond to fire emergencies.

Want to read more about the end of ‘zero Covid’ in China? Check our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse,

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

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China and Covid19

The Hottest Place in China: How Zibo Became a Popular Tourist Destination and an Online Hit

There are even special Zibo BBQ trains now. This is how Zibo barbecue suddenly became the hottest meal of the country.

Manya Koetse



The old industrial city of Zibo treated students well during their zero Covid quarantine. This spring, they came back to celebrate the city. Their enthusiasm and social media posts were so contagious that the entire country now wants a taste of Zibo barbecue.

In central Shandong province, bordering the provincial capital Jinan to the west, you will find the city of Zibo (淄博). With its 4.7 million inhabitants, the old industrial and mining city was not exactly known as a trendy tourist destination. But that has all changed now. Everybody is talking about Zibo.

For the upcoming May 1st holiday, hotel bookings in Zibo went up 800% compared to 2019, making it one of the most popular destinations in Shandong. The city has especially attracted online attention since March of 2023, with hashtags and hot searches peaking over the previous week.

How did Zibo become such an online sensation, especially among China’s young travelers? The city’s hit status is widely discussed on Chinese social media apps these days. The emergence of such an overnight sensation is usually the result of various factors coming together at the right time, and this is also the case with the hype surrounding Zibo.

Zibo Barbecue

Its appealing barbecue culture is the first and main reason why Zibo is so hot nowadays. The city has been known for its barbecue restaurants for years, and creating a thriving open-air BBQ entertainment environment is also something the local authorities have invested in. They are publicizing Zibo as an ambassador city for “Friendly Shandong” (“好客山东”), the slogan the province uses to promote its image and boost tourism.

The Zibo BBQ experience includes every table having its own small stove and it has that ‘do it yourself’ factor that hotpot-style dinners also have: when the skewers are served, the diners have to grill them themselves and then wrap them in thin pancakes, usually with spring onions.

Zibo barbecue, images via social media.

As one of its tourism promotion initiatives, Zibo has set up special tourist trains and dedicated BBQ bus routes to attract groups of tourists and boost local tourism after the pandemic years. Train ticket sales for May 1st already doubled that of Spring Festival, and tickets for the Beijing South-Zibo route sold out online within a minute the moment they became available.

A Kind City in Difficult Times

Another reason for Zibo’s sudden fame was suggested by some Chinese netizens (including the popular @地瓜熊老六), who said that Zibo played a special role during China’s zero-Covid policy.

Zibo first went trending after a group of students from Jinan went there in March of this year. They came to Zibo because this was where they apparently were quarantined for a while during Covid, and they were well taken care of during their stay.

According to one Zibo local, the students also celebrated their last night in Zibo at the time with a major BBQ feast.

It is said that the students from Jinan wanted to go back to Zibo at this time and spend time there as a way to thank the city – not knowing they would start a viral sensation.

Power of TikTok

Douyin, the Chinese TikTok app, is also at the heart of Zibo’s recent success.

As reported by 36kr, Zibo first became a hot topic on Douyin in early March, when the videos of the initial groups of students taking the high-speed train to Zibo to eat barbecue went viral.

In April, Zibo again hit the hot trending lists on Douyin after one vlogger tried out ten different food stalls in the city and found that they all gave him the right portions or even gave him some extra food for free, reinforcing the idea that Zibo is a hospitable city.

What followed was a snowball effect, from Douyin to Xiaohongshu to Weibo, with videos showing Zibo diners singing together while eating and having a good time spreading all over social media, only increasing the appeal of the city. “Zibo is just all over my timeline,” some commenters wrote on April 15.

Crazy Travel after Covid

According to the Chinese media platform DT Finance (DT财经), Zibo is a destination that especially resonates with Chinese students who have new wishes when it comes to traveling.

Especially during the pandemic and China’s stringent Covid measures, many people have spent a lot of time indoors, quarantined, locked down, and/or unable to travel. Now that spring is here, people want to seize the moment and go out and enjoy their leisure time. This also means that instead of planning longer holidays well in advance, people book shorter, last-minute trips.

Social media pics of Zibo trips.

This is also one of the reasons why Zibo is especially popular among students from Shandong, who can hop on a train, reach their destination, and find themselves enjoying a beer and barbecue within a matter of hours.

Stories from Zibo

In light of the craze surrounding Zibo, there are various stories emerging from the thriving city that only add to its charm. For example, there are many videos showing the lively scenes around BBQ restaurants which went viral.

One visitor needed to catch his train but still wanted a taste of Zibo BBQ, so one female shop owner hurried things along and made sure he got his Zibo dinner (#淄博老板娘为赶高铁小伙1v1烤串#).

Then there was a 95-year-old veteran who visited the Zibo BBQ scene and his visit also made its rounds on social media (#95岁老兵体验淄博烧烤被围观#).

Another trending hashtag is about Zibo’s music events (#淄博音乐节#), about some of the planned events and (rock) concerts taking place in Zibo in late April and early May. “Zibo’s cultural tourism office really understand how to do it,” various commenters wrote, praising how Zibo is not just known for its barbecue restaurants but also for its lively music scene.

Then there are the videos showing an entire crowd singing ‘happy birthday’ because one person is celebrating their birthday.

All in all, it’s clear that Zibo did something right. Especially in these times when so many cities across China are doing all they can to promote their town as a tourist destination (read all about it here), Zibo has proven that consistency is key to success: stay kind, be reliable, but most of all, keep the barbecue hot.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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

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