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February 23, 2013

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Want to know how clean public toilets are? Count the flies ...

THREE flies good, four flies bad. A draft sanitation standard using the number of flies as a guide to hygiene levels in China's public toilets has been met with ridicule online and by expats living in Shanghai.

Comments on the initiative from the Ministry of Health ranged from "odd" to "too funny" and "ridiculous" yesterday.

The ministry is proposing a standard for toilets inside public buildings that would specify no more than one fly per square meter. Stand-alone public toilets should have no more than three per square meter. And the limit for maggots is zero.

The ministry is seeking public opinion on its draft regulations, which also list standards for odor control, toilet cleaning and disinfection.

They also suggest the number of stalls for women should be double that for men in some places. Erecting panels between male urinals and doors for toilet stalls is also advised in the draft.

However, it is the fly count that has attracted most attention.

"I think that if there are flies present, it is an indication that the toilet is dirty. Why not just make a regulation that every public toilet needs to be cleaned at least, for example, four times a day?" Tero Sarkkinen, an expat from Finland, told Shanghai Daily.

"If a toilet has three flies per square meter it would meet the standard, but just imagine how insanitary it would be with that many flies going around," he said.

Online, there were jokes about a new job opportunity as a counter of flies. Others asked why there was no standard for mosquitoes while some lamented that the new standard would cause the flies (driven away from toilets) to feel they had been born in the wrong country.

More serious comments included questions about different standards in different seasons.

"There are more flies in summer than in winter, and in daytime than in nighttime, therefore, does it mean there should be several versions of the standards?" was one comment.

Celine Chanut, a Frenchwoman who has been living in Shanghai for three years, said the proposed standard "sounded funny."

"The rule of one or three flies would be very difficult to control," she said.

But she did welcome the idea of standards if they improved conditions at the city's public toilets.

"If I can choose, I usually do not use outside public toilets but those in 5-star hotels or in a cafe. If I can't choose, or in case of emergency, I choose the squat toilets, which seem to be cleaner than the Western-style toilets."

She said she would appreciate toilets that cleaned themselves automatically with appropriate disinfection products. And she said there should be training to encourage people to keep public toilets clean.

Standards of hygiene in China's public toilets, particularly at scenic spots, have long been a cause for concern. There are also complaints over the shortage of public facilities. In some popular Shanghai tourist spots, long queues often form for public restrooms.

On the Bund, for example, there are only five public toilets, about 400 meters apart. But the riverfront area gets about 500,000 visitors on a normal day and up to a million tourists every day during holiday periods.

There are no department stores or other buildings along that stretch of the Huangpu River where people desperate to relieve themselves can go.


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