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After testing positive for the coronavirus late last month, Leona Cheng was told to pack her bags for a hospital stay. When the ambulance came to her apartment in central Shanghai two days later to pick her up, no one said otherwise.
Therefore, Ms. Cheng was surprised when the car stopped in front of a large convention center instead of a hospital. Inside, empty halls had been divided into living quarters with thousands of makeshift beds. And on booth partitions, purple signs bore numbers delineating quarantine zones.
Ms Cheng, who stayed at the center for 13 days, was among the first of hundreds of thousands of Shanghai residents sent to government quarantine and isolation facilities as the city grapples with a surge in coronavirus cases for the first time in the city Pandemic. The facilities are a key part of China’s playbook to track, trace and eliminate the virus, which has met unusual public opposition in recent weeks.
Footage circulating on Chinese social media on Thursday showed members of a Shanghai community protesting against the use of apartment buildings in their complex to isolate people who have tested positive for the virus. Police officers in white hazmat suits were seen physically hitting back at angry residents, some of whom begged them to stop.
China’s leaders have said the country, unlike the rest of the world, cannot afford to live with the virus because it has a large and vulnerable aging population. But China’s zero-tolerance policy — under which anyone who tests positive is sent to a hospital or isolation facility, and close contacts are placed in quarantine hotels — is becoming both a logistical and a political challenge, as officials have warned since inception are facing the current outbreak in March with more than 350,000 cases.
As of April 9, Shanghai had converted more than 100 public facilities, including public schools and newly built high-rise office blocks, into makeshift facilities called “fangcang,” or square-cabin hospitals. They are said to house more than 160,000 people who have tested positive for the virus. Officials said last week.
Protests erupted Thursday at the Zhangjiang Nashi International apartment complex in the Pudong district of Shanghai after the developer notified 39 households they had to move because officials were converting nine buildings into isolation facilities. said the developer in a statement.
When Ms. Cheng first arrived at the exhibition center, it felt huge, cold and empty, she said in a telephone interview. Ms. Cheng, a college student in her early 20s, also wrote about her experience on Chinese social media.
The neon lights were glaring, but she tried to get some rest. When she woke up the next morning, her hall was suddenly full of people.
There was no faucet for running water and no showers, Ms. Cheng said, so she and others crowded around several freshwater machines each day, waiting to fill the pink plastic sinks they were given. The portable toilet stalls soon filled with so much human waste that Ms. Cheng said she stopped drinking water for several days so she wouldn’t have to use them as frequently.
Even if someone figured out how to turn off the floodlights, Ms. Cheng said it would still have been difficult to sleep at night. That’s when people started screaming their grievances and blowing off steam.
“A lot of people complained, and some people yelled that it was too smelly to sleep,” she said.
Afraid of upsetting her mother, Ms. Cheng did not tell her that she was stuck in a fang. She instead said she couldn’t video call and gave vague answers to her mother about everyday life in quarantine. A woman sleeping in a nearby bed took a similar approach when speaking to her daughter. The two women smiled as they discovered they shared the same secret.
Ms Cheng said she was struggling to come to terms with a quarantine system that reduced her to a number. If she wanted something, she had to find a nurse or doctor assigned to her zone. But the nurses and doctors were so busy it was difficult to get help, she said.
Ms Cheng said she once admired the government’s goal of keeping the virus out of China. That meant she was able to lead a normal life for more than two years, even as cities and countries around the world went into lockdown.
Now she’s not so sure.
“This time I feel like it’s out of control and it’s not worth controlling the cases because it’s not that dangerous or deadly,” she said, referring to the highly contagious Omicron variant. “It’s not worth sacrificing so many resources and our freedom.”
Joy dong and Li you contributed research.