Students trapped in quarantine are begging for online help as China faces its largest Covid epidemic since 2020.

Students trapped in quarantine are begging for online help as China faces its largest Covid epidemic since 2020.

On Thursday, the country reported 1,100 new locally transmitted cases – which, while not approaching levels seen elsewhere, is considered high by Chinese standards. It was the highest daily sum since the virus hit Wuhan in 2020, setting an alarm among local and national leaders. During the pandemic, China followed a strict zero Covid policy aimed at eliminating all epidemics and transmission chains through a combination of border checks, mass testing, quarantine procedures and lockouts.

Authorities backed off this familiar tactic as cases began to mount up across the country last week, imposing targeted lockdowns on residents of high-risk areas and mandatory quarantine for close contacts.

In Shanghai, where the number of infections is rising, city officials have turned several apartments into centralized quarantine centers, forcing tenants to remove all their belongings, according to several government notices that reached CNN.

According to local residents, the latch locks have also trapped growing numbers of residents, office workers and students with short notice, keeping them in their workplaces or schools until everyone inside passes negative tests.

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But after more than two years of a pandemic, public patience with these measures – especially when they are implemented quickly and without taking human impact into account – seems to be waning.

At Jilin University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology in Northeast Jilin Province, students used social media to plead for help, saying they were left on their own after a cluster was detected on campus.

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In one of the widely shared posts on a Chinese Twitter-like platform Weibo, a user claiming to be a university student complained that infected students were being isolated in libraries and academic buildings, “they all broke down and cried.”

“Many students in my dorm had a fever, but the tutors just gave us antipyretics and made us sleep in a warm duvet,” the user wrote on Thursday. “There is a serious shortage of basic necessities. Girls do not have pads. Schoolgirls bleed and suffer, cry and call their families ”.

CNN contacted the university via its official Weibo account for comment. The school’s official website and any additional contact information were closed on Friday.

A Weibo user added that students isolated in their dormitories stated that “their doors are sealed and they cannot even go to the public restroom in the dormitory”. When students tried to call the government’s Covid-19 control center, telephone operators “refused to answer our questions,” he said.

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Many students were moved to a separate quarantine facility on Thursday, with 30 buses scheduled to take them off campus, the state-owned Global Times said.

Weibo’s post went viral, with over 2.6 million likes and 410,000 shares. The Internet flooded with public outcry, and users demanded the accountability of local officials. The related hashtag has collected over 1.88 billion views on Weibo, according to the Global Times.

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“From the school to the prevention and control institutions to the city of Jilin – if there was one person who had the courage to take responsibility, it would not have progressed to the present situation,” reads one of the Weibo posts.

Later that day, city officials announced that the secretary of the Chinese Communist Party’s school committee had been removed from office for negligence.

Excitable cases

According to the National Health Commission, the current epidemic has spread to several dozen cities in 20 provinces. The largest hotspots are Jilin and eastern Shandong Province, with cases also reported in the capital, Beijing, as well as Shanghai.

The provincial capital of Jilin, Changchun, issued a city-wide blockade on Friday, barring all 9 million residents from leaving their neighborhoods. Each household may send only one person for grocery shopping every other day.

As Jilin University Cluster began to spread, Jilin City closed its schools and entertainment venues. Similar closures have been imposed on all schools in Qingdao City, where 10 million people live in Shandong Province and Shanghai.

Several cities are struggling with the highly infectious variant of Omicron, according to local health authorities.

Students line up for Covid-19 tests at Qingdao Agricultural University on March 7 in Qingdao, China.

In the Laixi area of ​​Qingdao, students account for more than a quarter of the 776 cases confirmed since March 4. Authorities say the cluster has since spread to other provinces – leading to 17 Laixi officials being fined on Thursday for allowing “loopholes” and alleged neglect.

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China’s zero-Covid strategy has put enormous pressure on local authorities to contain the virus, and many officials have been sanctioned during previous rounds of local outbreaks.

As frustration and sympathy grew for students, state media admitted that some sectors were showing “some level of fatigue with Covid’s dynamic null strategy, which could affect the outcome of current policy.”

Some Chinese leaders and academics have also suggested that China may deviate from this strategy. Zero-Covid “will not remain unchanged forever,” Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote last week on Weibo.

But this transition is not going to happen anytime soon, and experts are calling for caution in emerging cases and warning that new variants may still emerge. “There is no need to open the door at the height of the global epidemic,” said Zeng.