Anger mounts in locked down Chinese city as reports of hospital failures, food scarcity spread

Officials in Xi’an were punished after reports surfaced that people were denied life-saving medical treatment and ran out of food during a severe coronavirus lockdown in the Chinese city of 13 million people.

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

In recent days, indignation over lockdown conditions has increased as people 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 a heavily pregnant woman miscarried outside Xi’an Gaoxin Hospital on January 1 after being refused entry for not getting enough up recently the virus had been tested.

“The blood ran over the chair and her pants, the floor was covered with 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 deleted and further posts on the account hidden from the public, but a hashtag spreading the news about the report has been viewed hundreds of millions of times on the platform. NBC News was unable to independently verify the contribution or facts of the report.

A member of the hospital’s advertising department said she knew about the incident but did not know what exactly happened. Other hospital staff declined to answer questions over the phone or did not answer.

Vice Prime Minister Sun Chunlan said Thursday she was deeply ashamed that the woman miscarried because of the late treatment. “It has revealed the laxity and inaccuracy of our Covid prevention work and taught everyone a profound lesson,” Chinese state media quoted them as saying.

At a press conference on the same day, Liu Shunzhi, director of the Xi’an City Health Department, confirmed that a pregnant woman miscarried after waiting two hours in front of the hospital entrance.

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

After investigations, provincial and community health committees found that the hospital did not properly classify patients and had “inadequate” emergency plans, Liu said.

Volunteers visit residents of an apartment block in Xi’an. China is still pursuing a “zero covid” policy long after much of the world decided to live with the virus. Chinatopix via AP

The general director of the hospital has been suspended and those in charge of the ambulance and medical department have been dismissed, he added.

“On behalf of the city health department, I apologize deeply to this patient and deeply apologize for the poor access to medical treatment,” he said.

The city government said in an earlier statement published on Weibo that disciplinary action had also been taken against Liu and Li Qiang, Chinese Communist Party director at Xi’an Emergency Center, but did not provide any further details.

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Social media users had voiced their outrage over the woman’s miscarriage.

“A pregnant woman with profuse bleeding was ignored for fear of this very low mortality disease,” one person wrote on Weibo. “What’s the logic?”

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

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

Government officials said no hospital should allow epidemic prevention and control to affect patient care.

China is still pursuing a “zero-covid” policy long after much of the world decided to live with the virus. Severe restrictions to contain virus outbreaks are not uncommon in the country slated to host the Beijing Winter Olympics next month. China has fully vaccinated nearly 85 percent of its population, according to China Our world in data.

Xi’an people were told to stay home as workers sprayed pathogen killing solutions on streets and buildings to sanitize the city. Residents were asked to close their windows and avoid touching outside surfaces to prevent contact with the chemicals. International passenger flights were suspended at Xi’an Xianyang International Airport on Wednesday, Chinese state media reported.

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

These measures have taken 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 Weibo post, a person whose username translates to Sunflowerrr0000 described desperate attempts to provide medical treatment to the user’s father, who was suffering from chest pain.

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

“I cannot imagine the desperation and suffering my father experienced in the last hours of his life,” said the user. “I lost my father forever.”

The city and provincial health authorities were not immediately available to comment on the contribution. NBC News was unable to independently verify the account.

The reports followed a flurry of wider social media complaints about the conditions in Xi’an, where the lockdown has lasted more than two weeks. Weibo users said it had become difficult to buy groceries in town, citing high prices and lack of deliveries, and that the Covid health code system that was used to regulate people’s movements did not always work properly.

“Staying at home with no income has made my life very difficult, and now food prices are rising too!” A user sent on the platform. “The food is now also a real challenge.”

The state daily newspaper Global Times reported On Wednesday, the head of big data in the city, Liu Jun, was suspended under the health code system crashed twice amid citywide virus screening.

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

Meanwhile, the city of Yuzhou, in the central province of Henan, has also been under lockdown since Monday evening due to a minor outbreak, with authorities ordering its 1.1 million residents to stay inside and not leave the city.

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