COVID: Boy’s death in lockdown fuels backlash in China
The death of a 3-year-old boy following a suspected gas leak in a locked residential complex in northwest China has sparked a new wave of outrage against the country’s strict zero zero policy. COVID.
The boy’s father claimed in a social media post that COVID workers tried to prevent him from leaving their compound in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, to seek treatment for his child – causing a delay which he says proved fatal.
A social media post by the father on Wednesday about his son’s death sparked an outpouring of public anger and grief, with several related hashtags racking up hundreds of millions of views the following day on Weibo, the platform Twitter-like Chinese form.
“Three years of pandemic has been his whole life,” read one popular comment.
It’s the latest tragedy to fuel a growing backlash against China’s relentless zero COVID policy, which continues to upend daily life with relentless lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing mandates even as the rest of the world is emerging from the pandemic.
Many similar cases have involved people who died after being denied prompt access to emergency medical care during lockdowns – despite insistence by Chinese officials, including leader Xi Jinping, that COVID policies of the country « put people and their lives first ».
Locked up for a month
Large parts of Lanzhou, including the neighborhood where the boy’s family lives, have been locked down since early October.
The boy’s father said his wife and child fell ill around noon on Tuesday, showing signs of gas poisoning. The mother’s condition improved after receiving CPR from the father, but the boy fell into a coma, according to the man’s social media post.
The father said he tried several times to call an ambulance and the police, but failed to get through. He said he then went to ask for help from the COVID workers who were enforcing the lockdown in their compound, but was rejected and told to seek help from his community leaders or keep calling himself an ambulance.
He said workers asked him to show a negative COVID test result, but he was unable to because no tests had been performed at the compound in the previous 10 days.
He became desperate and eventually took his son outside, where a « kind-hearted » resident called a taxi to take them to the hospital, he wrote.
However, it was too late when they arrived and the doctors failed to save her son.
“My child might have been saved if he had been taken to the hospital sooner,” he wrote.
According to maps online, the hospital is just 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) from the boy’s house, or 10 minutes by car.
The father claimed in his social media post that the police only showed up after taking his son to hospital. But local police said in a statement on Tuesday evening that they immediately rushed to the scene after receiving a call for help from the public and helped send two people, including the child, to hospital 14 minutes later.
The police statement said the child died of carbon monoxide poisoning and the mother remained in hospital in a stable condition, but it was unclear whether the lockdown measures had delayed their treatment.
CNN has reached out to Lanzhou officials and the boy’s father for comment. The father did not answer.
On Thursday, Lanzhou authorities issued a statement expressing their grief over the child’s death and their condolences to his family. They vowed to ‘deal seriously’ with officials and work units that failed to facilitate the boy’s timely rescue.
« We have learned a painful lesson from this incident…and we will put people and their lives first in our work going forward, » the statement said.
Request for answers
The boy’s death also sparked anger among local residents. Videos circulating on social media show residents taking to the streets to demand a response from the authorities.
One shows a woman shouting at officials wrapped head to toe in hazmat suits. “Ask your boss to come here and tell us what happened today,” she shouts. In another, a man chants: « Give me back my freedom! »
Other videos show several buses containing SWAT officers arriving at the scene.
One shows rows of officers in hazmat suits marching down the street; several more show residents in a standoff with uniformed police holding shields and wearing helmets and masks.
CNN cannot independently verify the videos, but a resident who lives nearby confirmed to CNN that he saw the SWAT team police moving in.
« They shouted ‘one, two, one’ (when they walked down the street) so loudly they could be heard 500 yards away, » the resident said.
He lamented Lanzhou’s « excessive epidemic prevention and lockdowns » and what he said was increasingly strict censorship.
« Now even knowing the truth has become an extravagant hope, » he said. « Who knows how many similar incidents have happened across the country? »
In his social media post, the father said he was approached by someone claiming to work for a « civil organization » and was offered 100,000 yuan (about $14,000) on the condition that he sign a agreement committing not to hold the authorities accountable. .
« I didn’t sign it. All I want is an explanation (for my son’s death), » he wrote. « I want (them) to tell me straight, why wouldn’t they let me go then? »
The father’s posts on Weibo and Baidu, another online site, chronicling the incident both disappeared on Wednesday evening.