Don’t separate Covid-positive children from parents, Western diplomats ask China
- French and British envoys raise concerns about practice in Shanghai as city tries to stop spread of coronavirus
- Lack of privacy and sanitation at mobile hospitals also worrying, British letter says
The city has been separating Covid-positive children from their parents, citing epidemic prevention requirements, which has prompted a widespread public outcry.
Diplomats from more than 30 countries have written to the Chinese foreign ministry urging authorities not to take such a step.
“We request that under no circumstances should parents and children be separated,” the French consulate in Shanghai said in a letter addressed to the foreign affairs office in the city on Thursday.
In a separate letter to the Chinese foreign ministry dated the same day, the British embassy in Beijing said it was concerned by “recent instances when local authorities have sought to separate minors who tested positive for Covid-19 from their parents” and requested assurances that this would not happen to diplomatic staff.
The French consulate and British embassy both said they were writing the letters on behalf of European Union states as well as other countries including Norway, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand.
They said they had heard about difficulties caused by Shanghai’s lockdown, which the city started carrying out in two stages starting March 28.
The French consulate letter said asymptomatic or mild cases should be sent to “a specialised isolation environment with staff who can communicate in English”.
Currently, asymptomatic cases are sent to centralised quarantine centres, some of which have been described as unsanitary and overcrowded.
The British embassy said there were concerns over the conditions and lack of privacy in recently deployed mobile hospital facilities, adding that isolating in diplomatic housing was a “preferable solution and consistent with our Vienna Convention privileges”.
“The British consulate general in Shanghai has been raising its concerns about various aspects of the current Covid policies in relation to all British nationals in China, with the relevant Chinese authorities,” a consulate spokesman said.
The French consulate declined to comment on the letter. The Australian consulate general in Shanghai, which was cited in the letters, also declined to comment but said it had been engaging with local authorities on the Covid-19 restrictions.
The United States did not appear as a signatory on either letter.
However, the US consul general in Shanghai, Jim Heller, told members of a private chat group for US citizens that the consulate had been underscoring many of the concerns raised by the European letter with the Shanghai government.
A US embassy spokesman declined to comment on Heller’s remarks but said the treatment of embassy staff in the Covid-19 pandemic was “job one” and that the embassy was engaging on Covid-related policy with the Chinese government.
Other countries, such as Norway, Switzerland and New Zealand, which were mentioned in the letters, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Chinese foreign ministry also did not respond to a request for comment.
On Monday, Shanghai official Wu Qianyu said children could be accompanied by their parents if the parents were also infected, but separated if they were not, adding that policies were still being refined.
Cases continued to rise on Monday amid a city lockdown, in one of the country’s biggest-ever public health responses.