BEIJING — Chinese authorities faced further public anger on Thursday after the death of a second child was blamed on overzealous enforcement of anti-virus measures, adding to frustration over controls that have confined millions of people to their homes and sparked battles with health workers.
The 4-month-old girl died after vomiting and diarrhea while under quarantine at a hotel in the central city of Zhengzhou, according to news reports and social media posts. They said it took her father 11 hours to get help after emergency services refused to deal with them and she was eventually sent to a hospital 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.
The death came after the ruling Communist Party promised this month that people under quarantine would not be blocked from receiving emergency care after protest over the death of a 3-year-old boy from carbon monoxide in the northwest. His father blamed health workers in the city of Lanzhou, who he said tried to stop him from taking his son to hospital.
Netizens expressed anger at the ruling Communist Party’s “zero COVID” strategy and demanded that officials in Zhengzhou be punished for failing to help the public.
“Once again, someone died due to excessive epidemic prevention measures,” wrote a user on the popular Sina Weibo platform. “They put their official post above everything else.”
The ruling party promised last week to ease quarantines and other restrictions under its “zero COVID” strategy, which aims to isolate any infected person. But China’s leaders are trying to dispel hopes that the measures are about to end as other governments ease controls and try to live with the virus.
“Zero-COVID” has kept China’s infection numbers lower than those in the United States and other major countries, but it has shut down neighborhoods, schools and businesses for weeks. Residents of some areas complain that they are left without food and medicine.
A spike in infections in the past two weeks has prompted officials in districts across China to lock families in their cramped apartments or quarantine people if a case is detected in their workplace or neighborhood.
On Thursday, the government reported 23,276 new cases in areas across the country; 20,888 of them are asymptomatic.
That includes a total of 9,680 in this week’s biggest hotspot, the southern business hub of Guangzhou, near Hong Kong.
The government is trying to deal with “simple and gross” over-enforcement in response to public complaints, Shen Hongbing, deputy director of the National Bureau of Disease Control, told a news conference.
The government has received 130,000 complaints, including local officials of improperly isolating visitors arriving from low-risk areas, according to Shen.
“We’ve sorted through the issues reported by the masses,” Shen said. He did not mention the death of the girl in Zhengzhou.
Local governments are being given more flexibility in possible preparations to gradually reopen the country, but the timetable is unclear, economists Helen Qiao, Benson Wu and Xiaoqing Pi of Bank of America said in a report. They pointed to the major cities of Guangzhou, Chongqing and Shijiazhuang, which are all dealing with rising infections.
“Their responses and reopening paths will be useful for other cities to prepare for their reopening,” they said. “No matter what measures they take, we expect a short-term shock to local economic activities.”
Economists and health experts said “zero COVID” could remain in place for another year because the government needs to vaccinate millions of elderly people before it can lift restrictions that prevent most foreign visitors from entering China.
Videos on social media this week said to have been filmed in Guangzhou show angry residents tearing down barriers set up by white-clad health workers. The 1.8 million residents of the city’s Haizhu district were confined to their homes last week, but some restrictions were lifted on Monday.
A total of 1,659 cases were reported in Henan province, another hot spot where Zhengzhou is located.
Access to an industrial zone in Zhengzhou, home to the world’s largest iPhone factory, was closed this month after outbreaks. Apple Inc. has said that deliveries of the new iPhone 14 model will be delayed.
An employee wearing protective gear stands outside a shuttered iPhone factory in Zhengzhou city, China, on November 8, 2022.
Last month, thousands of workers walked out of the factory, run by Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group, after complaints that sick colleagues did not receive treatment.
News reports say the ruling party has ordered “mass cadres” to fill in for the missing workers, and Foxconn is offering bonuses to those who remain. Foxconn did not respond to requests for confirmation or details.
The 4-month-old girl in Zhengzhou and her father were sent into quarantine on Saturday, according to news reports and social media.
A social media account saying it was written by the father, identified as Li Baoliang, said he started calling the emergency hotline at noon on Monday after she suffered vomiting and diarrhea. He said the hotline responded that the girl was not sick enough to need emergency care. The story said health workers at the quarantine site called for an ambulance, but the crew refused to deal with them because the father had tested positive for the virus.
The girl finally arrived at a hospital at 11 p.m., but died despite efforts to revive her, the account said.
The account attributed to the father complained that the emergency hotline was malfunctioning, nearby hospitals were not ready to help and the hospital they ended up in did not provide “timely treatment” and gave him “severe incorrect information.
“Epidemic prevention and control people, do you have no heart?” said another post on Sina Weibo.
The Zhengzhou city government said the incident was under investigation, according to news reports.
A report on the social media account of news outlet China News Weekly was reposted 11,000 times and received 45,000 “likes,” according to Sina Weibo.
In the capital Beijing, access to the elite Peking University was suspended on Wednesday. People who visited a vegetable market in the southeastern part of the city where a case was found were quarantined in a hotel at their own expense. Some shopping malls and office buildings are closed.
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