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Shanghai plans to test 25 million people for COVID in one day, as the city’s lockdown separates parents from their children

April 4, 2022, 9:21 AM UTC

Shanghai plans to test all 25 million of its residents for COVID in one day on Monday as the city battles its worst-ever COVID outbreak—with little success thus far.

Shanghai reported just over 9,000 new COVID cases on Monday, pushing the city’s total caseload to over 60,000 since the Omicron outbreak began in March. Parts of Shanghai have been locked down for weeks in an effort to stymie the virus, but last week officials imposed a citywide lockdown on the entire population as case numbers continue to climb.

Yet Shanghai residents are already frustrated with the city’s poor implementation of COVID controls—which have resulted in food shortages, crowded hospitals, and children being separated from parents to undergo quarantine.

Images of an overcrowded Shanghai facility used to house children who test positive for COVID went viral on Weibo and Douyin on Friday and Saturday. Photos showed single cots crammed with babies, and a small number of adult staff vastly outnumbered by children under their care, according to Reuters.

On Saturday, the deputy director for Shanghai’s Civil Affairs Bureau admitted that the city might need to make the “heart-wrenching” decision to separate children from their infected parents, and said that child welfare workers should be able to look after children while parents were sent to isolation. Social media users were outraged, with one Weibo comment asking, “How could the government come up with such a plan?”

For now the government has doubled down. On Monday, Shanghai officials clarified parents who test negative for COVID will not be allowed to accompany their children into quarantine, though admitted that policies were still being refined.

The policy of separating parents from their children could be solved by allowing positive COVID cases to quarantine at home, but Shanghai requires all positive cases be sent to an isolation facility or hospital rather than being allowed to self-isolate. The policy has frustrated Shanghai residents, some of whom see mandated hospital quarantine as illogical, and worry about being sent to hastily constructed and poorly equipped quarantine facilities.

On Saturday, Chinese social media users began circulating a recording of an alleged conversation between a resident and a public health official on social media. The supposed health official expressed frustration with the city’s quarantine and testing rules and claimed on the recording that the Shanghai government was ignoring recommendations to let asymptomatic patients and those with mild symptoms isolate at home.

Shanghai residents are also frustrated with the difficulty of getting food and medical care during the city’s prolonged lockdown. One Shanghai resident told the South China Morning Post that she wakes up at 5:45 a.m. to get food delivered to her locked-down compound—and is often forced to try multiple food delivery apps as they keep crashing owing to countless other quarantined shoppers trying to do the same.

Lockdown measures have also trapped people at work, as companies ask employees to sleep on-site to ensure that operations can continue even as Shanghai locks down. Shanghai’s port—the world’s busiest—has continued to operate during the lockdown by forcing workers to stay on-site at all times. Shipping company Maersk advised its customers that the port would likely see a 30% drop in efficiency until at least Tuesday.

With cases in Shanghai still climbing, China is throughly in the grips of its worst COVID outbreak since the pandemic began, creating a breeding ground for the mutation of new COVID variants.

On Sunday, Chinese authorities in the nearby city of Suzhou announced they had uncovered a new Omicron subvariant not recorded in any existing database. The new variant is different from the so-called stealth Omicron BA.2 subvariant that is now the world’s dominant form of COVID, or the new Omicron XE subvariant that combines elements of the BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron subvariants, first detected in the U.K. on Jan. 19.

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