‘Big Whites’: Shanghai’s feared hazmat-clad workers videoed dragging people from homes
Shanghai: Videos of people being dragged from their homes by health workers in hazmat suits coursed through Chinese social media late on Sunday before being pulled down on some platforms, as the city’s intensive lockdown enters its seventh week.
The videos – which purported to show COVID-positive patients and their close contacts tussling with the workers – come as the city tightens some aspects of the lockdown despite a drop-off in new cases. People living in the same building of confirmed cases now also risk being transported to designated quarantine facilities, according to residents and widely circulated social media posts. Previously, only people living in the same apartment or the same floor of positive cases would likely be considered close contacts and put under central quarantine.
The ramping up of restrictions comes even as the city reported its fewest cases in more than six weeks, with 3,947 new infections on Sunday, down slightly from 3,975 on Saturday.
Social media posts have been removed that questioned the legality of forcibly removing people from their homes and taking them to quarantine facilities, or seizing their keys to allow health workers to disinfect apartments.
One video that is still available appeared to show two “big whites,” as the healthcare workers who enforce China’s lockdowns and COVID regulations are known, dragging away a woman kicking and screaming in a residential compound. Bloomberg News reporters viewed the video but were unable to verify when and where it was taken.
Another unverified video posted on WeChat shows a “big white” using a loudspeaker to warn residents to stay home, saying if one person living in a building tests positive, everybody living in the same building will be considered close contacts and sent to central quarantine.
Residents seen fighting with health workers in Shanghai last month. Credit:Twitter
Other videos showing hazmat-suited workers banging on the door of an apartment and taking the occupants to quarantine have been deleted.
China’s COVID-zero policy requires all cases and their close contacts to be isolated in government facilities as a way of snuffing out transmission. The strategy was effective at quashing COVID early on in the pandemic, but is being challenged by more transmissible variants like omicron.
Beijing is also tightening restrictions to keep a lid on cases, which fell to 49 on Sunday from 62 on Saturday. Officials on Sunday required all residents in its eastern district of Chaoyang – home to embassies and offices of multinationals including Apple and Alibaba – to start working from home. This followed an order to shut down some businesses providing non-essential services such as gyms and movie theatres in the district to minimise infections.
On the weekend, Premier Li Keqiang warned of a “complicated and grave” employment situation amid the stricter curbs in China’s two most important cities – in line with the nation’s stringent COVID-zero policy.
Li instructed all government departments and regions to prioritise measures aimed at helping businesses retain jobs and weather the current difficulties, according to a statement late Saturday, which cited the premier’s comments in a nationwide teleconference on employment.
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