Authorities in the Chinese city of Xi’an relented in some of their pandemic restrictions after a nationwide outcry over the account of a woman who lost her unborn baby in the eighth month of pregnancy after being denied medical attention for hours.
For two weeks, the city’s 13 million residents have been confined to their homes in response to an outbreak in which about 1,800 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19, a big outbreak for China. Most of Xi’an’s cases have been mild, authorities say, and no one has died of the virus. Still, the city has closed most public services in measures similar to those in Wuhan, the first epicenter of the coronavirus, two years ago. Only a limited number of Xi’an’s hospitals have been open to non-Covid-19 patients.
The restrictions had prompted widespread online complaints, but mostly from locals about challenges in getting access to food or medical care. On Wednesday, anger spread nationwide, with social-media expressions of outrage in response to a video showing a woman sitting outside a hospital, with a pool of blood at her feet. In the one-minute video, people identifying themselves as family members describe how the woman was kept waiting outside the hospital for two hours, allegedly because her most recent Covid-19 test was a couple of hours too old. By the time she was admitted, her unborn baby had died.
The incident seems to have marked a turning point in the public response to some of the most stringent lockdown measures in China, which has espoused a strategy of stamping out the virus wherever it emerges. It prompted a quick response from Xi’an authorities, which said hospitals shouldn’t turn away patients needing urgent attention, including pregnant women, in the name of Covid-19 prevention.
Authorities fired several hospital executives and asked the hospital to issue a public apology.
A hospital director told local media on Wednesday that the hospital had done its best, given the Covid-19-prevention rules, adding that the woman had had surgery and was recovering.
The video of the woman, initially released by a local short-video outlet, started to spread widely after official media drew attention to it, an unusual move that suggested some dissatisfaction in Beijing with how Xi’an was handling its lockdown. Social-media accounts reposting the video included ones belonging to the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, and the press outlet of China’s State Council, its cabinet.
By Thursday morning in China, the video had been watched 51 million times. Many who commented said they have in the past defended Xi’an’s lockdown measures, but had changed their minds after the woman’s account of losing her baby.
“This mother suffered so much…waiting in the cold only to lose her child. Feel suffocated even thinking about it,” said one comment on the Twitter-like Weibo platform that drew nearly a quarter-million likes.
“This is so infuriating. The death rate of Covid-19 is dropping, while the costs of ‘zero tolerance’ are rising,” said another comment.
Later on Wednesday, another woman came forward with a similar account.
The woman, who identified herself by her surname, Wang, said in a long Weibo post that on Dec. 29, she was turned away by two hospitals after she started bleeding late in her pregnancy.