Thu. Jan 27th, 2022

Two days after a woman who was turned away from a Xi’an hospital had a miscarriage, an elderly man died of heart disease when several medical institutions refused to treat him because he lived in a neighborhood with ‘ lived a confirmed coronavirus case.

By the time the 61-year-old was finally admitted to Xi’an Gaoxin Hospital, doctors had told the man’s family it was too late to save his life.

“I can not imagine the despair and suffering my father experienced in the last hours of his life,” the man’s daughter wrote in a post on the Weibo microblog.

The Financial Times could not independently confirm the details of the post, but her story echoes that of other Xi’an residents who reported several incidents of neglect and distress in the strictest lock since the pandemic broke out in Wuhan two years ago.

On New Year’s Day, a pregnant woman was denied admission to Xi’an Gaoxin Hospital for several hours because her negative Covid test results were out of date. She waited outside until she started to bleed. After the woman miscarried, officials fired senior staff members at the hospital.

Yanzhong Huang, an expert on public health policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said the chaotic scenes in Xi’an, where many residents were left without food and access to medical resources, reflects “poor emergency preparedness at local level, even after the pandemic has been going on for two years”.

The central city has recorded more than 1,900 infections in the past month, just a fraction compared to the numbers experienced in countries such as the US, which reported more than 1 million cases on Tuesday.

But China’s “zero-covid” policy means that the outbreak in Xi’an should be treated as a crisis. Officials have banned more than 13 million residents from leaving their homes unless they have special dispensation.

A man in a protective suit stands guard at an entrance to a residential area in Xi'an in China's northern Shaanxi province

For Xi’an residents, even with declining daily cases, there is no indication of when lock-in measures will be eased © AFP via Getty Images

Many families who took part in the coup d’etat suffered food shortages, which was exacerbated this week after city officials placed everyone who came into contact with a Covid case in a government quarantine facility. This included food delivery workers and volunteers handing out essential supplies to closed communities.

An owner of a grocery store in Xi’an, who did not want to be named, told the Financial Times that they had no more vegetables after receiving only one delivery of government emergency rations since the 22-year ban. December did not start.

“People are scared,” said the shop owner, “which is not surprising, because we are not allowed to go outside and can only get information from our phone.”

Jane Huang, a freelance marketing agent in Xi’an, said she was able to get groceries at her local supermarket that have good connections with suppliers. But other neighborhoods “did not have the same luck because shops were closed and delivery workers were not allowed to work”.

“Many of my friends said they were starving or scraping past with instant noodles,” she said.

China’s zero-covid policy proved effective in preventing the large number of deaths suffered in some Western countries, according to the country’s official statistics. And analysts have said China is unlikely to deviate from the policy. In November, leading health officials warned that a nationwide outbreak “would cause a major disaster”. Given the low efficiency of Chinese vaccines, a major outbreak could lead to mass hospitalizations and deaths.

But the suffering experienced by Xi’an residents without food and access to medical treatment has highlighted the cost of draconian closure measures without contingency planning. A commentator on Weibo posted to more than 3 million followers that “departments should have less rigid regulations and show more compassion. . . Epidemic control must not forget the spirit of humanity. ”

Yanzhong Huang said Xi’an politicians were under “extreme pressure” to eradicate infections before Beijing hosted the February Winter Olympics, which encouraged them to “follow excessive methods to get the job done.”

But after the outburst of anger that followed news of the woman’s miscarriage, the authorities changed their minds. Xu Mingfei, Xi’an’s deputy mayor, said this week that hospitals can no longer reject patients who need emergency care. He also promised to boost resources for vulnerable groups with urgent medical needs, such as pregnant women and patients in need of dialysis and chemotherapy.

Calvin Ho, a bioethicist at the University of Hong Kong, noted that in contrast to the poorly managed outbreak in Xi’an, Shanghai authorities in November managed to control a resurgence of Delta variant infections. . They took decisive measures that included restricting 34,000 guests to the city Disneyland Park for testing and insulation.

“There are different capabilities between local governments when it comes to controlling the pandemic,” Ho said, noting that officials in the north-central province of Henan are also rushing to control an outbreak with 56 cases detected on Friday.

But for residents in Xi’an, even with daily case numbers declining, there is no indication of when lock-in measures will be eased.

“It’s been like this for 14 days now and I do not know when things will be relaxed,” says Huang, who is desperate to take her dog for a walk in the fresh air.

Additional post by Maiqi Ding in Beijing

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