The Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre said, however, that the photos and videos circulating on internet were not of a “Jinshan infant quarantine facility” but were scenes taken when the hospital was moving its paediatric ward to another building to cope with a rising number of COVID paediatric patients.
This was done to “improve the hospital environment”, it said on its official WeChat account on Saturday, adding that it had organised for more pediatric workers and would strengthen communication with the children’s parents.
“Paediatric patients admitted to our hospital… are guaranteed medical treatment and their daily needs taken care of,” it said.
Later on Saturday the Shanghai rumour buster WeChat account, which is backed by China’s cyberspace watchdog, published four photos that it said showed the children’s current situation at the Jinshan centre.
One of the photos showed young children sitting in and standing around beds that were arranged neatly in two rows, though no adults were pictured. In another photo, a hazmat-suited person attends to a baby lying in a cot. Only one other adult, also in a hazmat suit, can be seen in the two other photos.
The Shanghai government referred Reuters to the hospital’s statement and declined to comment further.
A Shanghai health official said last week that hospitals that were treating COVID-positive children maintained online communications with their parents.
By Saturday, the original post had been deleted from Weibo, but thousands of people continued to comment and repost the images. “This is horrific,” said one. “How could the government come up with such a plan?” said another.
In some cases children as young as 3 months old are being separated from their breastfeeding mothers, according to posts in a quarantine hospital WeChat group shared with Reuters. In one room described in a post, there are eight children without an adult.
In another case, more than 20 children from a Shanghai kindergarten aged 5 to 6 were sent to a quarantine centre without their parents, a source familiar with the situation said.
Since Shanghai’s latest outbreak began about a month ago, authorities have locked down its 26 million people in a two-stage process that began on Monday.
While the number of cases in Shanghai is small by global standards, Chinese authorities have vowed to stick with “dynamic clearance”, aiming to test for, trace and centrally quarantine all positive cases.
The US, French and Italian foreign consulates have warned their citizens in Shanghai that family separations could happen as Chinese authorities executed COVID curbs, according to notices seen by Reuters.
Health officials on Sunday reported 438 symptomatic COVID-19 cases over the previous 24 hours, along with 7788 asymptomatic cases. Both figures were up slightly from the day before.
Shanghai on Saturday reported 6051 asymptomatic cases and 260 symptomatic cases for April 1, versus 4144 asymptomatic cases and 358 symptomatic ones on the previous day.