Shanghai said on Tuesday that quarantine staff will not enter private homes to disinfect them without permission after a public outcry over the practice during the city’s prolonged lockdown.
Jin Chen, an official from the city government, told a press conference on Tuesday that disinfection is an important link of the Covid pandemic control plan and rules and procedures have been established to disinfect the homes of infected Covid patients.
The local news portal, ThePaper.cn, also reported that officials have confirmed that quarantine staff will not make forced entries and will seek permission before entering residents’ homes for disinfection.
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Last weekend widely shared videos showed quarantine staff in hazmat suits and armed with disinfectants knocking on people’s doors in Huangpu district to carry out disinfection.
The disinfection raids were apparently not limited to Shanghai. Another video showed a family in Suining in Jiangsu province being visited by disinfection staff, who even checked the refrigerator, sprayed disinfectant on the sofa and washing drying on the balcony.
ThePaper reported that officials in Suining said they compensated the families with food and gift bags.
“The entire procedure was videotaped, and executed in accordance with experts’ instructions, and food in the fridge is disposed of accordingly,” the local government said.
But the officials’ responses were not enough to put the public anger to rest. Some internet posted mocking tips online advising people to protect their home electronics with plastic wrap, taking out food, and even to insure their pianos.
“Please be prepared for the possibility that your pets and plants will die,” one online post warned.
Some residents who live in apartment blocks also fear that there will be mass evacuations as soon as one single case of infection was found given the authorities’ zero-tolerance policy.
A Shanghai piano teacher, who lives only a block away from the site of the disinfection controversy, said that some of her neighbours have been ordered by police to move to a centralised quarantine facility and surrender their keys for indoor disinfection.
One video she shared with the Post showed a woman arguing with police in hazmat suits about the evacuation and challenging them not to enter her apartment without her permission.
The piano teacher said she is worried because local residents have been given very little information about the lockdown and control measures.
She also wanted answers about what plans the authorities might have for her four cats, and some of her neighbours were also worried about the elderly.
“I just can’t leave without my cats, they are like my children,” she said.
Home disinfection has been a controversial topic during the pandemic. The World Health Organization does not recommend spraying disinfectants indoors and says if they are to be used it should be via a cloth or wipe.
During the month-long lockdown, Shanghai residents have been extremely vocal about inconveniences and frustration they experienced due to what they called chaotic management by officials and strict restrictions.
On Sunday, more than 20 university professors in China appealed in a post on Weibo for Shanghai to stop “excessive pandemic prevention”, arguing that some policies, including entering people’s flats to carry out disinfection, contradicted the principle of the rule of law.
The post was quickly removed from Weibo, but screen grabs continued to circulate on Chinese and international social media.
In the post lead academic Tong Zhiwei, a professor of constitutional studies in Shanghai, said such behaviour could lead to “some kind of legal disaster”.
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