Harsh Covid lockdown in Xi’an, China, triggers anger

Officials in Xi’an have been punished after reports were released of people deprived of life-saving medical care and running out of food as part of a strict coronavirus lockdown in the Chinese city of 13 million people.

Xi’an, a former capital and now a major industrial center 600 miles southwest of Beijing, was locked up late last month amid China’s worst coronavirus outbreak since it was first detected in Wuhan at the end of 2019. Residents were asked to stay at home except to be tested for Covid.

In recent days, outrage over the lockdown conditions has grown as people have shared personal stories online, forcing authorities to apologize and announce disciplinary action against officials. An account posted on the popular Chinese social media platform Weibo said that a very pregnant woman miscarried outside Xi’an Gaoxin Hospital on January 1 after being refused l entry because she had not been tested for the virus recently enough.

“Blood was flowing on the chair and his pants, the floor was covered in blood,” said a user named Biexiayulechengma, described as a relative of the woman, in a post. “The 8 month old child was stillborn and had no heartbeat.”

The post has since been removed and other posts on the account have been withheld from the public, but a hashtag disseminating information about the report has been viewed hundreds of millions of times on the platform. NBC News was unable to independently verify the message or the facts of the report.

An employee of the hospital’s advertising department said she was aware of the incident but was not sure exactly what had happened. Other hospital staff refused to answer questions over the phone or did not respond.

Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan said Thursday she was “deeply ashamed” that the woman had miscarried due to delayed treatment. “It exposed the laxity and vagueness of our Covid prevention work and taught everyone a deep lesson,” she told Chinese state media.

Speaking at a press conference the same day, Liu Shunzhi, director of the Xi’an Municipal Health Department, confirmed that a pregnant woman had miscarried after waiting two hours outside the entrance to the hospital.

“This is an accident caused by negligence,” he said, reading a statement released online by the Xi’an municipal government later.

As a result of investigations, provincial and city health committees found that the hospital had not properly triage patients and had “insufficient” emergency response plans, Liu said.

Volunteers visit residents of a residential building in Xi’an. China is still pursuing a “zero Covid” policy long after much of the world decided to try and live with the virus. Chinatopix Via AP

The general manager of the hospital was suspended and the heads of the outpatient service and the medical service were dismissed, he added.

“On behalf of the municipal health service, I deeply apologize to this patient and I deeply apologize for the poor access to medical care,” he said.

The municipal government said in a statement posted on Weibo on Thursday that disciplinary action had also been taken against Liu and Li Qiang, director of the Chinese Communist Party of the Xi’an emergency center, but did not give further details. .

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Social media users have expressed outrage over the woman’s miscarriage.

“Due to fear of this very low-mortality disease, a pregnant woman with heavy bleeding has been ignored,” one person posted on Weibo. “What’s the logic? “

Some online commentators have pointed out that in recent years, the Chinese government has reversed its strict one-child policy to encourage more births amid a growing population crisis. According to data recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics, China’s birth rate in 2020 was less than 1%, the lowest since 1978.

“Shouldn’t life come first?” Asked a Weibo user.

Government officials have said that no hospital should allow the prevention and control of the outbreak to affect the treatment of patients.

China is still pursuing a “zero Covid” policy long after much of the world decided to try and live with the virus. Heavy restrictions adopted to eradicate outbreaks of the virus are not uncommon in the country, which is expected to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing next month. China has fully vaccinated nearly 85% of its population, according to Our World in Data.

Xi’an residents were urged to stay at home while workers sprayed pathogen-killing solutions on roads and buildings to disinfect the city. Residents were urged to close their windows and avoid touching exterior surfaces to avoid contact with chemicals. International passenger flights to Xi’an Xianyang International Airport were suspended on Wednesday, Chinese state media reported.

Construction workers line up to be tested for Covid-19 in Xi’an. The city reported 63 new confirmed infections on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases in the outbreak to more than 1,800 since it began on December 9.AFP – Getty Images

These measures took a heavy toll on the people, and the miscarriage was not the only report of Xi’an residents struggling to access life-saving medical care. In another post on Weibo, someone whose username translates to Sunflowerrr0000 described desperate attempts to seek medical treatment for the user’s father, who was suffering from chest pain.

The user described spending hours trying to find a hospital willing to treat the father before he was finally admitted. The father later died, the user said.

“I can’t imagine the desperation and suffering my dad went through in the last hours of his life,” the user said. “I have lost my father forever.”

Municipal and provincial health officials were not immediately available for comment on the post. NBC News was unable to independently verify the account.

The reports followed a wave of broader complaints on social media about conditions in Xi’an, where the lockdown lasted more than two weeks. Weibo users said it has become difficult to buy food in the city, citing high prices and missing deliveries, and that the Covid health code system, used to regulate the movement of people, did not always work correctly.

“Staying at home and having no income once made my life very difficult, and now the price of food is going up too! »A user posted on the platform. “Even having a meal is a real challenge now. ”

The state-owned Global Times newspaper reported on Wednesday that the city’s big data manager Liu Jun was suspended after the health code system crashed twice during testing for viruses across the country. city.

The city reported 63 new confirmed infections on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases in the Xi’an outbreak to more than 1,800 since it began on December 9.

Meanwhile, Yuzhou City, in central Henan province, has also been locked up since Monday evening amid a small epidemic, with authorities ordering its 1.1 million residents to stay indoors and not to leave the city.

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