The Washington Post

Panic grips work­ers at Shanghai air­port dur­ing test­ing

Af­ter seven coro­n­avirus cases linked to cargo unit, of­fi­cials de­cide to hold more than 17,000 em­ploy­ees in­side a park­ing struc­ture for screen­ing

- BY EVA DOU eva.dou@wash­post.com Lyric Li in Bei­jing con­trib­uted to this re­port. Coronavirus (COVID-19) · Infectious Diseases · Health Conditions · Shanghai · Seoul · Beijing · North America · United States of America · Washington · Anhui · Shanghai Pudong International Airport · Pudong · Qingdao · Kashgar

SEOUL — The blurry smart­phone videos from Sun­day night in China look like some­thing out of a science-fic­tion movie: Hun­dreds of work­ers in an air­port park­ing struc­ture surge against guards in white haz­mat suits who block the exit. The work­ers yell. The se­cu­rity of­fi­cers yell back through mega­phones.

“Just let me go,” shouts one man in the crowd. “I don’t want to die here,” cries out an­other.

The rea­son that more than 17,000 em­ploy­ees were sealed in­side Shanghai’s main air­port on Sun­day? Seven cases of the novel coro­n­avirus were linked to the cargo unit.

By Mon­day morn­ing, Shanghai was back on mes­sage, with lo­cal of­fi­cials an­nounc­ing that 17,719 air­port cargo work­ers had been tested for the virus in one night. All of the 11,544 re­sults re­ceived so far came back neg­a­tive, they said. Of­fi­cial videos showed work­ers wait­ing in or­derly lines for test­ing, set to sooth­ing piano mu­sic.

Left unan­swered was where the work­ers are now. An air­port spokesman de­clined to say on Mon­day whether they were still in the air­port, taken to quar­an­tine or al­lowed to go home.

Ear­lier at a news con­fer­ence, of­fi­cials blamed a cargo flight from North Amer­ica as the pos­si­ble source of the out­break, while promis­ing cargo work­ers ac­cess to a vac­cine.

“Ar­range­ments will be made for high-risk work­ers to get a coro­n­avirus vac­cine for emer­gency use, un­der an in­formed con­sent ba­sis,” said Zhou Jun­long, vice pres­i­dent of Shanghai Air­port Group.

Hun­dreds of flights into the Shanghai Pudong In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Mon­day were can­celed, ac­cord­ing to the flight­track­ing app Umetrip.

China has kept its coro­n­avirus case counts en­vi­ably low by crack­ing down hard on new clus­ters — harder, per­haps, than any other coun­try. Ear­lier this fall, the cities of Qing­dao and Kash­gar each tested mil­lions of res­i­dents in a mat­ter of days to guar­an­tee that small clus­ters had been snuffed out. Pho­tos showed long lines in the streets af­ter dark.

The Shanghai case on Sun­day gave a rare glimpse into the hu­man toll of these test­ing blitzes. Smart­phone videos cir­cu­lat­ing on Chi­nese so­cial me­dia showed thou­sands of cargo work­ers packed into an air­port park­ing fa­cil­ity as they waited their turn for test­ing. Peo­ple screamed as they were jos­tled back and forth.

“Oh, my God, they are fight­ing,” one woman yelled, as a crowd pushed against the haz­mat-suited work­ers block­ing an exit. “They are fight­ing.”

One per­son was car­ried limply away, with some­one on video say­ing the per­son fainted. The Wash­ing­ton Post was un­able to reach air­port em­ploy­ees to con­firm this.

Shanghai of­fi­cials de­cided on ac­tion on Sun­day when two new pos­i­tive coro­n­avirus cases were de­tected, bring­ing the air­port clus­ter to seven. The new pa­tients were a 49-year-old cargo worker whose col­league tested pos­i­tive on Fri­day, and the 31-year-old wife of a cargo worker who tested pos­i­tive on Satur­day, Shanghai’s Mu­nic­i­pal Health Com­mis­sion said.

The overnight test­ing drive ap­peared partly an ef­fort by Shanghai of­fi­cials to show they were do­ing their ut­most to con­tain the out­break, af­ter cases con­tin­ued to pop up at the air­port cargo unit weeks af­ter the first one.

On Nov. 8, a 51-year-old cargo worker at the air­port — iden­ti­fied by au­thor­i­ties by only his sur­name, Wang — checked into a hospi­tal with fever, fa­tigue and a stuffy nose, and he tested pos­i­tive the next day.

His co-worker, iden­ti­fied as Lan, re­turned to his home prov­ince of An­hui and tested pos­i­tive there on Nov. 10.

On Fri­day, a 39-year-old cargo screen­ing han­dler, named Wu, tested pos­i­tive, as did his wife and two co-work­ers. The sev­enth pa­tient was the wife of one of Wu’s co-work­ers.

At a news con­fer­ence Mon­day, lo­cal of­fi­cials blamed the clus­ter on a cargo con­tainer shipped from North Amer­ica, say­ing Wang and Lan had cleaned it to­gether on Oct. 30 be­fore de­vel­op­ing symp­toms a week later.

“There was a lot of foam cush­ion­ing in­side, and it was damp,” said Sun Xiaodong, vice direc­tor of the city’s pan­demic con­trol cen­ter. “Re­search has shown the coro­n­avirus can sur­vive in sealed, damp con­di­tions, and nei­ther of the two was wear­ing a face mask while clean­ing it.”

The of­fi­cials promised stricter virus pre­ven­tion mea­sures at the air­port cargo unit, but first, the goal was test­ing ev­ery­one within a day — and get­ting ev­ery­one to co­op­er­ate.

One video cir­cu­lat­ing on­line showed peo­ple climb­ing down a fire es­cape on Sun­day night and tram­pling across a gar­den, as they tried to es­cape the sti­fling crowds of thou­sands. Part of the fear ap­peared to be rooted in the un­cer­tainty over if and when they could leave.

In one of the videos, an an­nounce­ment blares on a loop: “Please queue for the nu­cleic acid test­ing. Don’t push, and be care­ful of your safety.”

 ?? AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS ?? Air­port work­ers wait for coro­n­avirus test­ing at Shanghai Pudong In­ter­na­tional Air­port. On Mon­day morn­ing, of­fi­cials said 17,719 peo­ple had been tested in one night.
AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS Air­port work­ers wait for coro­n­avirus test­ing at Shanghai Pudong In­ter­na­tional Air­port. On Mon­day morn­ing, of­fi­cials said 17,719 peo­ple had been tested in one night.

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