Shanghai eases family separation rules for children with Covid-19

City officials say efforts are under way to bring supplies into the city during a strict 'zero Covid' policy

Workers and volunteers in a compound where residents are being tested for Covid-19 during the second stage of a pandemic lockdown in Jing, a district in Shanghai. April 6, 2022. AFP

Shanghai on Wednesday made some concessions to a child separation Covid policy, in a nod to growing public frustration as it extends a citywide lockdown that left some residents struggling to buy food.

The lockdown of China's most populous city, which started in parts of Shanghai 10 days ago and has since been expanded to confine practically all its 26 million residents to their homes, has significantly disrupted daily life and business.

Public criticism over the curbs, part of Beijing's elimination strategy, has ranged from complaints over crowded and unsanitary quarantine centres to difficulties in buying food or accessing medical treatment.

But the most controversial policy is Shanghai's practice of separating Covid-positive children from their parents, which came to the fore on Saturday and triggered widespread anger across the country.

In the face of such criticism, the Shanghai government two days ago said it would relax the policy slightly to allow parents to accompany children if they were also infected.

But children will still be separated from parents who are not Covid-positive, prompting further complaints.

On Wednesday, a Shanghai health official said guardians of children with special needs who are infected with Covid-19 could now apply to escort them, but would need to comply with certain rules and sign a letter saying they were aware of the risks.

He did not provide further details and the Shanghai government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The comments brought widespread public relief, especially among parents, although some questioned why there was still a need to apply. A hashtag on the subject on China's Weibo social media platform drew more than 40 million views by Wednesday afternoon.

"This is the right thing to do, carry out management in a humane way," said one widely liked Weibo comment.

Shanghai also said on Wednesday it would conduct another round of citywide tests, a mix of antigen and nucleic acid testing. Movement restrictions on residents will continue until it can evaluate testing results, officials said.

There are signs that the curbs, which were initially scheduled to last about five days for most, are fraying residents' nerves. Many are beginning to worry about food and drinking water, as supermarkets stay shut and deliveries are restricted.

Some have complained of having to wake up at dawn for a chance at booking a grocery delivery, but finding them sold out within seconds. Others have turned to community WeChat groups to try to bulk buy fruit and vegetables.

Liu Min, vice-head of Shanghai's commerce commission, said that authorities were working hard to resolve bottlenecks and take care of the "basic living needs" of the population.

She said efforts would be made to ship food and other necessities to Shanghai from other provinces, and to build emergency supply stations in and around the city to ensure vegetable supplies. But she said the biggest challenge was getting deliveries to homes.

Shanghai will also work to "release delivery capacity", saying the 11,000 riders working for major e-commerce platforms in the city could go to work if they submitted daily negative Covid-19 nucleic acid and antigen tests, she said.

Updated: April 07, 2022, 6:07 AM