Quarantine in Shanghai: 24-hour lights, no hot showers

Thousands of people in Shanghai who test positive for the coronavirus but show few or no symptoms are being ordered to quarantine centers in exhibition halls and other buildings

BEIJING — Beibei sleeps next to thousands of foreigners in rows of beds at a high-ceilinged exhibition center. The lights stay on all night, and the 30-year-old real estate saleswoman has yet to find a hot shower.

Beibei and her husband were summoned to Shanghai’s sprawling National Exhibition and Convention Center last Tuesday after spending 10 days in isolation at home following a positive test. Their 2-year-old daughter, who was HIV-negative, went to her grandfather’s house, while her nanny also self-quarantined.

The convention center, with 50,000 beds, is one of more than 100 quarantine facilities set up in Shanghai for people like Beibei who test positive but show no symptoms. It’s part of official efforts to contain China’s biggest coronavirus outbreak since the start of the 2-year pandemic.

The residents have “no obvious symptoms,” Beibei, who asked to be identified only by her first name, told The Associated Press in a video phone interview.

“There are people coughing,” she said. “But I don’t know if they have laryngitis or omicron.”

The shutdown of Shanghai, which has confined most of its 25 million residents to their homes, is testing the patience of people who are growing increasingly fed up with China’s ‘zero-COVID’ policy aimed at to isolate each case.

“At first, people were scared and panicked,” Beibei said. “But with the release of daily numbers, people have started to accept that this particular virus isn’t that bad.”

Beibei learned she was to be released on Monday after two negative tests at the convention center.

Most of Shanghai shut down from March 28. This has led to complaints about food shortages and growing economic losses.

Anyone who tests positive but has few or no symptoms must spend a week in a quarantine facility. Beibei said she had a stuffy nose and briefly lost some of her sense of taste and smell, but those symptoms disappeared within days.

On Monday, the government reported 23,460 new cases on the Chinese mainland, of which only 2,742 showed symptoms. Shanghai accounted for 95% of the total, or 22,251 cases, including 2,420 with symptoms.

The city has reported more than 300,000 cases since late March. Shanghai began easing restrictions last week, despite a health official warning the city had not brought its outbreak under control.

At the convention center, residents are checked twice a day for fever and must record health information on cellphones, according to Beibei.

Most pass the time by reading, square dancing, taking online courses or watching videos on cell phones.

The 420,000 square meter (4.6 million square foot) exhibition center is best known as the site of the world’s largest auto show. Other quarantine sites include temporary prefabricated buildings.

Residents of other facilities have complained of leaky roofs, insufficient food supplies and delays in treatment for medical issues.

“We couldn’t find a place with a hot shower,” Beibei said. “The lights are on all night and it’s hard to fall asleep.”

Video obtained by AP showed wet beds and floors due to a leaky roof at another facility in a prefab building.

“The bathrooms aren’t very clean” at the NECC, Beibei said. “So many people are using them, and volunteers or cleaners can’t keep up.”

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