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Shanghai is under pressure as the entire city goes into a second week of lockdown to contain COVID-19. Authorities are separating parents from their children in an attempt to test and isolate all cases and their close contacts. Meanwhile, quarantine wards and nursing homes are overwhelmed with patients. NPR's Emily Feng reports.
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: From the start, China's insisted parents and young children quarantine separately if one or both parties test positive for the coronavirus. The consequences of that policy have become horrifyingly clear as Shanghai struggles to contain its biggest-ever outbreak of the virus and state quarantine facilities fill up. More families are being separated.
SUKI WANG: (Through interpreter) The doctors said for an extra $300 a day, I could see him. Then they said, if I didn't pay on time, they would not let my child out of quarantine. Isn't that a bribe?
FENG: This is Suki Wang. She traveled to Shanghai in late February, just as cases started to crop up. She tested positive and so did her 7-year-old son. Authorities quarantined them in separate hotels. After more than one month apart, Wang and her son were finally reunited. He's traumatized - beset by daily nightmares about being abandoned again.
WANG: (Through interpreter) Some of the toddlers quarantined with him lost the ability to speak. Another friend's 6-month-old came out with his legs covered in scratches, graffiti on his hands and open sores.
FENG: She's now in an online support group with more than 300 other parents who were separated or are currently separated from their young children. Other parents in this group say they're still unable to contact their children during isolation and are sharing pictures and videos to support their claims.
WANG: (Through interpreter) Many of their infants do not have COVID but are coming out of these quarantine centers with other illnesses because the conditions are filthy. Their milk bottles are returned to the parents covered in mold.
FENG: After a public outcry, Shanghai said this week that family members who both test positive can isolate together. But elsewhere in Shanghai, another family is still trying to reunite. A brother and sister have been desperately trying to relocate their mother from the Donghai nursing home in Shanghai. We're not using their names and distorting their voices because they fear legal repercussions for speaking to foreign media. Here's the brother.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Through interpreter) We are ordinary workers. We only watch state TV. We support the Communist Party. But this time, we have lost hope. No government office picks up our calls. All of us are extremely worried because there are at least 20 people who tested positive for COVID in the nursing home.
FENG: Their mother is still living with two other people who have tested positive. NPR verified his account with other families and with two orderlies still working inside the nursing home. Here's one of them. Their voices are also distorted because they fear state retribution for speaking to us.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Through interpreter) We were tricked into working here. The employment agency said they were looking for cleaners and would pay us extra. They told us we would not be working with COVID patients - just changing bedsheets for close contacts. We are exhausted. Only after we threatened to go on strike did they give us food and fix the running water.
FENG: The orderlies say they're now terrified about getting sick themselves. Neither are trained nurses, but as resources grow scarce, they're being asked to treat bedsores and insert IVs. Here's the second orderly.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Through interpreter) There were even rats running through the nursing home when we first arrived. Many of the residents are paralyzed elderly folk, so we had to keep watch. If the rats bit our patients, they wouldn't even be able to yell for help.
FENG: And more and more elderly residents are falling ill in the care center, they say. Both say at least one elderly resident with COVID died last week. They only discovered her body 6 hours after her passing.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Through interpreter) They put her body in a yellow bag and wrote her name on it with marker. That was it. So many family members are now calling us after hearing about the resident's death.
FENG: These orderlies are now trapped. They are not allowed to leave the nursing home and are waiting to learn their fate - likely being sent to a mass isolation facility hastily erected that can hold thousands of people at a time.
Emily Feng, NPR News, Beijing.
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