Beijing — Chinese censors on Friday scrubbed from the internet reports that a teenager had died in a quarantine facility after the case sparked anger and prompted citizens to question the country’s “zero-COVID” policy. China is the last major country committed to a zero-tolerance anti-coronavirus strategy, responding to dozens of outbreaks with lockdowns and sending entire neighborhoods out to makeshift quarantine facilities.
The public has chafed against virus restrictions, sometimes responding to fresh lockdowns with protests, while scuffles have broken out between citizens and officials.
Posts circulated on Chinese social media this week saying a 14-year-old girl had died in the central city of Ruzhou after falling ill in a quarantine facility and being denied prompt medical care.
The reports caused renewed anger at a sensitive time for the country’s rulers. China’s political elite are holding a key Communist Party meeting in Beijing this week, expected to secure a historic third term for President Xi Jinping, with the country’s propaganda and security apparatus on high alert for any source of instability.
Unverified videos on the Chinese version of TikTok appeared to show a person lying in a bunk bed suffering seizures, while others in the room screamed for help.
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The child was initially fine, but after being placed in quarantine for four days due to a high fever, she has since passed away, according to a woman identified as the child’s aunt in other videos.
The mother complains that local health authorities failed to respond to calls when the child was in critical condition because the girl “had convulsions, vomiting, and a high fever and didn’t get medical attention in time.”
The videos could not be independently verified by AFP, and calls made on Friday to the COVID prevention, health, and propaganda departments of Ruzhou city went unanswered.
This week, the Ruzhou case received noticeably less coverage in the Chinese media than it has in the past when similar lockdown-related scandals have occurred.
On Weibo, the hashtags “Ruzhou Girl” and “Girl from Ruzhou dies in quarantine” were disabled by Friday afternoon, and the majority of the videos referencing the girl’s alleged death had also been taken down.
According to the official statistics at the top of the page, the hashtag page for “Ruzhou Girl” had 255,000 views and 158 posts on Friday morning, but only four posts remained visible before the page was completely blocked later in the day.
“Have the lessons of Shanghai been forgotten so completely?” one of the last remaining posts on the page asked, referring to the megacity’s lockdown in the spring that left people without adequate food and supplies.
The poster demanded to know why “there wasn’t even a doctor to care for a girl who needed to see one.”
The incident comes a month after 27 people died in a traffic accident while they were being ferried before dawn to a quarantine facility in rural Guizhou province.
And in the lead-up to the Congress, censors removed virtually all references to reports of a rare protest in Beijing, that involved banners denouncing President Xi, as well as the COVID policies.
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