4-year-old boy is separated from his parents after infection 0:41
A toddler covered head-to-toe in a white hazmat suit and carrying a backpack half the size of his body staggers down a hospital corridor and into the CT room. .
He is alone.
"A 4-year-old boy was infected (with covid-19), unfortunately," says a caption on the video.
"His parents are not with him. He is going to quarantine alone."
The scene, captured by a nurse at a quarantine hospital in the city of Putian, the epicenter of the most recent outbreak of the delta variant in China, shocked millions of people when it went viral on Chinese social media this week.
"My heart aches," read one of the main comments on Weibo, the Chinese platform similar to Twitter.
"Tears come to my eyes," said another.
The video serves as a poignant reminder of the human cost of China's cherished zero-covid policy, which has helped the country quell multiple outbreaks of the virus.
The removal policy consists of closing entire neighborhoods, testing millions of residents in a matter of days, and rapidly isolating infected people and their close contacts at designated facilities.
This time, the strict measures were applied to school-age children, among whom the outbreak was first detected and spread rapidly.
In Putian, 57 of the 129 recently registered cases are under the age of 12, according to the government.
To prevent further transmission, infected children, starting from kindergarten age, are separated from their parents and placed in hospital isolation.
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At a press conference on Thursday, the Putian government said China's epidemic control regulations prohibit covid patients from any carrier during isolation and treatment.
But if a child and his father are infected, the hospital will try to keep them in the same room, an official said.
At first, some children who came into contact with the infected but tested negative were also quarantined away from their parents.
This policy was later relaxed, and those under the age of 14 were allowed to stay with their parents or other family members in quarantine, but the isolation of infected children is maintained.
Zhu Xiaqing, the nurse who recorded the video at the quarantine hospital, told the local newspaper Fujian Health Daily that tears welled up in her eyes when she saw an ambulance full of children arrive, all covered in protective suits.
They were late because a child did not want to leave the house and was crying for two hours before being put into the ambulance, he said.
Upon arrival, the children walked alone to have a CT scan.
Some were so small that they could not get on the exam table and had to be lifted by a doctor, Zhu said.
"Seeing the children alone, without parents by their side, in a hospital that they do not know and that scares them ... at that moment my heart hurt a lot," he added.
On Weibo, some users wondered why children so young could not be accompanied by their parents.
Others noted that their parents were likely centrally quarantined at other facilities as close contacts of those infected.
"It's basically a strategy of 'I'd rather kill a thousand by mistake than let one go,'" said Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong.
"The children should not have needed to undergo such extreme quarantine measures. This is the social cost of the zero tolerance approach."
Government workers detain a motorcyclist at the entrance to a quarantined housing block in Xiamen, southeast China's Fujian province, on September 14.
The strict and often frantic implementation of containment measures has already sparked discontent on other occasions. In June, hundreds of residents of Foshan, Guangdong province, protested against weeks of prolonged closure of their neighborhoods. Images of the demonstration were quickly erased from the internet, while on social media, those who criticized or questioned the "zero covid" policy were targeted and silenced by online nationalists.
The "zero covid" strategy continues to enjoy wide support among the general Chinese public, many of whom have become accustomed to the benefits associated with living without covid and continue to fear the virus, in part due to the relentless coverage of state media about the devastation the pandemic has caused abroad.
China insists its zero covid strategy is correct.
Challenging you could be dangerous
"The success of the strict approach is partly based on public fear. This is not ideal," Jin said.
"The right way is to tell the public the truth (about the need to coexist with the virus), which is the only sustainable way to move forward."
Around the world, a growing list of countries has opened following mass vaccinations.
Others, like Singapore and Australia, are also abandoning the "zero" strategy against the virus and taking a new approach to learning how to live with it.
But the Chinese government remains reluctant to lift border restrictions, despite the enormous achievements of its vaccination campaign.
On Thursday, China said it had fully inoculated 1 billion people with domestically made vaccines, representing 71% of its population of 1.4 billion.
The vaccination rate is higher than that of many countries that have opened their borders, such as the United Kingdom (64.8%) and the United States (53.4%).
Jin, the expert from the University of Hong Kong, said authorities are concerned about the efficacy of the vaccines.
Authorities in China have revealed that some of the early cases of a previous outbreak of the delta variant were fully vaccinated.
"(They are concerned) that herd immunity is not strong enough. They don't have enough confidence in vaccines," he said.
China now offers booster shots to fully vaccinated people working at borders, customs, quarantine facilities, covid hospitals and the aviation sector, according to the National Health Commission, but it remains to be seen how long the effect of that additional vaccine.
For now, China's government is likely to maintain its zero-tolerance approach in its attempt to increase the population's immunity, but will eventually have to learn to live with covid, Jin said.
"It may take another year or two. But China cannot close its doors forever," he said.
At the Putian quarantine hospital, medical workers have devised various ways to comfort infected children.
They decorated isolation rooms and hallways with cartoon paintings, and provided children with children's books, toys, and stationery.
Nurses also take care of their daily needs and play with them, according to state media.
But some worry that that is not enough.
"During the day, it may be fine, but at night the children will still be scared," read a comment on Weibo.