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People turned away from hospital and forced to barter for food in China's latest lockdowns

Videos and images have emerged online reportedly showing Chinese citizens being denied hospital care amid the country’s zero-COVID strategy.

They appear to show a pregnant woman suffering from complications being denied entry to a hospital, and a man suffering from a heart attack also being refused care initially.

In one post, a woman put a call for help out online after her father suffered a heart attack but was refused care as he came from a medium-risk location, despite having a negative PCR result.

A daughter pleads for help online for her father who had a heart attack and couldn't be admitted to hospital.
Image:
A daughter pleads for help on social media for her father

The post was later updated, detailing that her father did finally receive treatment, but that it came too late and that he sadly died.

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It is an example of the wide array of hardships experienced by the people of Xi’an, a city almost the size of London at the centre of China’s latest COVID outbreak.

It has been locked down for the past two weeks after reporting more than 1,600 cases.

A second city, Yuzhou, also entered lockdown protocols on Monday night after just three asymptomatic cases were detected there.

The incidents in Xi’an have been widely shared on social media sites such as Weibo.

It was on this site that a woman posted her pregnant aunt had been refused entry to a hospital on New Year’s Day despite experiencing stomach pain, as she didn’t have the necessary negative PCR result.

Staff finally admitted the woman two hours later when they saw that she was bleeding, the post said. The woman unfortunately lost the baby.

An image from the footage captured by the pregnant woman's husband as they waited to be granted entry to the hospital
Image:
An image from footage captured by the pregnant woman’s husband

Further hardships have been documented online.

Several posts have shown how communities are bartering for food due to shortages. The image below shows someone swapping vegetables for sanitary towels.

Residents of Xi'an have begun bartering essential items
Image:
Residents of Xi’an have begun bartering essential items

Party officials have been harsh with anyone not adhering to the lockdown.

One man was made to read a letter of apology after pandemic workers stopped him escaping over a wall as he left his community to go food shopping.

There have been reports of officials beating citizens who were out on the street without good reason. Some have also complained that inadequate quarantine facilities are being provided.

Analysis by Tom Cheshire, Asia Correspondent

State media here likes to compare the West’s disjointed response to COVID – and its high death tolls – to China’s discipline and low case counts.

China has been remarkably successful in managing COVID. But what’s happening in Xi’an shows why China’s approach would be impossible in the West.

It’s not just a question of democratic attitudes – many Western countries’ citizens have shown their resolve in putting up with harsh lockdowns.

But it’s possible in China in a unique way. Most people live in large compounds, which are easily sealed off. There is a huge surveillance system in place to manage them. An army of police and baoan – semi-official security guards – are already at hand to enforce restrictions. And the overriding incentive for officials is to preserve the “dynamic zero COVID policy” – people’s welfare comes second.

And then, if there are public complaints, it’s relatively easy for authorities to scrub them from the internet, in a way that would be impossible in a free country.

Which makes what we’re seeing from Xi’an even more remarkable. Despite the censorship, and the social pressure to follow the party line, people’s desperation is enough to break through.

Many commentators abroad have wondered whether China’s zero COVID policy is sustainable. Most Chinese people, living a safe and COVID free life, had found that idea ridiculous. But because of Xi’an, some here are now asking the same question.

One conversation on WeChat suggests some in Xi’an have been sent to neighbouring city Weinan to quarantine, where 18 people reportedly share a room and are supplied with only a quilt and a bucket of instant noodles per day.

Yet, communities have been pulling together.

The tweet below refers to a video of someone receiving food from the local community, where a woman explains she has received meat, eggs, and vegetables in supplies.

Food exchanges have also been established and people have volunteered to help others in the pandemic.

And there is hope the situation will improve – in recent days the number of COVID cases has fallen in Xi’an, suggesting the lockdown is working.


The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.

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