China sticks with zero-COVID as quarantine video causes outrage

The video that purportedly shows a seriously ill 16-year-old female being ignored at a quarantine centre has gone viral.

A police officer attempts to block the photographers view outside a residential compound after it was locked down due to a COVID-19 outbreak in Beijing, on October 20, 2022 [Thomas Peter/Reuters]
A Chinese police officer attempts to block a photographer's view outside a residential compound after it was locked down due to a COVID-19 outbreak in Beijing on October 20, 2022 [Thomas Peter/Reuters]

China has intensified COVID-19 surveillance in Beijing amid a recent spike in cases while a video of what is reported to be a seriously ill teenager being ignored by medical staff at a COVID quarantine centre has caused public outrage at China’s draconian pandemic response.

Beijing, a city of 21 million people, reported 18 new, locally-transmitted cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total number for the past 10 days to 197 – four times more than the 49 infections in the previous 10-day period.

The numbers may be minuscule compared with other countries, but China’s zero-COVID policy demands strict measures.

Beijing’s health authority said risky individuals and locations would be screened and residential compounds with suspected cases have been put under three-day lockdowns, with extensions possible if new infections emerge. Such measures are necessary to “ensure that no one is overlooked”, health authorities said.

However, a video shared on social media this week of Chinese health officials apparently overlooking a critically ill teenager at a COVID-19 quarantine centre in Henan province has received hundreds of thousands of comments and angry calls for a full investigation.

Patrick Fok, reporting for Al Jazeera from Beijing, said there has been no mention of the video in China’s tightly-controlled media, but the “distressing video”, reportedly of a 16-year-old female, is being widely shared online in China.

The video purportedly shows the ill teenager convulsing in a bed at a COVID-19 quarantine facility in Ruzhou, Henan, and a woman who claims to be the girl’s aunt saying that no medical help had been forthcoming to help her niece. The teenager later died at the centre, according to a media report.

“A woman who says she’s the girl’s aunt said that she had gone there with six other family members and that she was not ill at the time that she had entered the facility. She also says that the family had repeatedly been calling for help, but had been ignored,” Fok said.

“This has really prompted a huge outpouring of anger with hundreds of thousands of views of related hashtags on Chinese social media,” Fok said.

“It has really highlighted President Xi Jinping’s apparent refusal to move away from China’s zero-COVID policy no matter what the economic and social implications are, nor indeed the apparent health implication, when you look at this case,” he said.

This video is only the latest expression of public outrage with the handling of the pandemic by Chinese authorities.

Last month a bus carrying people to a quarantine centre crashed, killing 27 people, Fok said.

“That prompted a similar outpouring of anger and there have been many other similar cases of people with medical conditions being refused help at care facilities because of rigid COVID-19 controls.”

China has pledged to stick to its hardline zero-COVID policy despite growing public frustration with it and its toll on the economy.

Shanghai, like many other Chinese cities battling sporadic COVID outbreaks, revealed this week that it was planning to build a 3,250-bed quarantine facility on a small island close to the city centre. In April-May, the city of 25 million people endured a protracted lockdown after detecting hundreds of thousands of cases.

Other major cities, including Beijing and Guangzhou, have similar quarantine centres with thousands of beds.

Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the 20th National Congress of China’s ruling Communist Party at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, on October 16, 2022 [Mark Schiefelbein/AP]

In spite of the widespread public frustration and economic damage zero-COVID has caused, Xi has said little other than to reiterate the validity of his policy that has made China a global outlier as much of the world tries to coexist with the virus.

Xi’s refusal to move away from the strategy has been seen as a social and economic policy failing by analysts, though Chinese officials have repeatedly emphasised their commitment to it in the build-up to this week’s National Congress of the ruling Communist Party in Beijing.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies