BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities are trying to quell protests over the death of a 3-year-old boy at a quarantined housing complex that has added to public anger over virus checks that have confined millions to their homes.
The boy died at a Lanzhou hospital from carbon monoxide poisoning attributed to a gas leak. His father accused the health workers who were enforcing the closure of the compound of refusing to help and trying to stop him while he took his son to the hospital.
The father’s social media account sparked angry comments about the human cost of the ruling Communist Party’s “Zero COVID” strategy that has confined families to cramped apartments for weeks to combat outbreaks.
The quarantine system “is to protect life and health, not to confront those who need to be rescued with obstacles!” said a post on the popular Sina Weibo social networking service.
The ruling party is sticking to “Zero COVID” at a time when other governments are loosening anti-virus controls. That has kept the number of infections from China relatively low, but disrupts business and travel.
Residents in many parts of the northwestern Xinjiang region were banned from leaving their homes in August and September. People in Urumqi and other cities who said they had run out of food and medicine posted pleas for help on social media.
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Public frustration has turned into fights with police and health workers in some places.
The Lanzhou city government expressed “deep sadness and sorrow” over the boy’s death in a statement, blaming “weak emergency response.” He said public employees who responded poorly would be “treated seriously.”
The boy’s father said he tried to call an ambulance after his son collapsed Monday from a possible gas leak at his home. The father wrote that he asked health workers for help at the gate of the complex, but was told to ask someone else and was asked to show a negative virus test. The father wrote that he ended up taking his son by taxi to a hospital, where doctors were unable to revive him.
A statement from the city government on its social media account said investigators found that an employee at a neighborhood checkpoint told the father to call the emergency number when he called for help.
Lanzhou Mayor Zhang Weiwen visited the neighborhood on Thursday and vowed to “open the ‘last mile’ for the masses to seek medical treatment,” the government-run Lanzhou Daily newspaper reported.
The government promised to “learn deeply from the painful lessons of this accident,” the newspaper said.
The public, businesses and foreign investors are watching for signs the ruling party could ease restrictions on the economy and making travel to and from China more difficult.
The ruling party’s People’s Daily newspaper tried last month to dispel hopes of a quick easing, saying “Zero COVID” was working and citing health experts who said it had to stay put.
Despite that, Chinese company share prices rose in Hong Kong on Tuesday after a rumor circulated on social media that a “reopening committee” might be set up to study easing restrictions. Prices fell after the government did not confirm the rumour.
On Friday, stock prices in Hong Kong rose again after an official newspaper said the Health Ministry wants anti-virus measures to be less expensive and a city with the world’s largest iPhone factory promised to ease restrictions. .
Health experts and economists say “Zero COVID” is likely to remain in place for possibly most of 2023, due in part to the need to vaccinate millions of older people before Beijing can consider relaxing requirements. that people entering China must be quarantined for a week. or more.
This week, access to an industrial zone in the central city of Zhengzhou, which is home to the largest factory that assembles Apple Inc.’s iPhones, was suspended following infections.
The National Health Commission said this week that the country needs to control outbreaks “with the smallest affected scale and the shortest time and cost possible,” according to the Global Times, published by the ruling party newspaper People’s Daily.
That is meant to “correct mistakes of overly strict measures that have caused damage to people’s property and lives,” the Global Times reported Thursday night.
Among other changes, Beijing-bound train passengers from the southern Guangxi region near Hong Kong no longer need to submit nucleic acid test results, the newspaper said.
The ruling party responded to complaints about the high cost of “Zero COVID” by switching earlier this year to a strategy that isolates buildings or neighborhoods rather than entire cities after cases are found.
Still, after the outbreaks in Shanghai in March, most of the city’s 25 million people were confined to their homes for two months. More recently, families have been homebound for weeks at a time after outbreaks.
On Monday, visitors to Shanghai Disneyland were temporarily prevented from leaving the park as part of virus tests that the city says have been extended to some 439,000 people. The city’s health agency said all of the guests have tested negative.
In Zhengzhou, a city of 12.5 million people in Henan province, authorities said Thursday that restrictions were being relaxed as the government tries to detect and isolate new cases.
On Wednesday, access to an industrial zone adjacent to the Zhengzhou airport was suspended for a week following the outbreaks.
Thousands of employees assembling Apple’s iPhone 14 at a factory operated by Foxconn Technology Group walked out last month after complaints that co-workers who fell ill did not receive medical care. The company later said it had imposed “closed-loop management,” an official term for employees who live at their workplaces and have no outside contact.
Foxconn said the Zhengzhou factory was operational, but the company and Apple have not responded to questions about how production and shipments might be affected.
The authorities are focused on “restoring order to production and life” and “will strive to end this round of the epidemic as soon as possible,” Zhengzhou city government deputy secretary-general Li Huifang said. at a press conference, according to The Paper, a Shanghai news outlet.
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