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China and Covid19

Death of Lanzhou Toddler after Late Emergency Response Sparks Online Anger over China’s Covid Policies

“Unless you shut down the entire internet in Lanzhou, there is no way for you to cover this up.”

Manya Koetse

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The emergency number was dialed at 12:15. The ambulance arrived at 14:03. Chinese social media users are lashing out at Lanzhou authorities and expressing anger over a failing emergency response system in light of the death of a 3-year-old child in one of the city’s Covid ‘high-risk areas.’

The death of a 3-year-old boy after carbon monoxide poisoning in Lanzhou, Gansu, has sparked anger on Chinese social media this week since there was a significant delay in medical care for the child due to epidemic prevention measures.

The incident happened early in the afternoon of November 1st in Lanzhou’s Qilihe District, where the 3-year-old boy and his mother suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning inside their home, both losing consciousness. The child was allegedly still alive and breathing after he was carried outside.

According to a WeChat report about the case, the father initially tried to rush the child to the hospital by himself but was stopped at an epidemic checkpoint where the staff did not allow them to go on.

Lanzhou is currently dealing with a local Covid outbreak, and the city of over three million inhabitants now has eight ‘high-risk areas’ – five of them are in the city’s Qilihe District.

After contacting emergency services, nothing reportedly happened for approximately half an hour, and the ambulance did not arrive. The father, whom we will refer to as ‘Mr Tuo’, tried to get through to the emergency hotline a second time, but was unsuccessful.

Thanks to the help of bystanders and neighbors, Mr Tuo eventually was able to get medical help for his wife and son. But by then, a lot of time had already gone to waste. Both the child and his mother arrived at the hospital after 14:00 in the afternoon. At around 15:00, the 3-year-old boy was pronounced dead.

The incident triggered outrage on Chinese social media, where people focused on the efficiency of emergency channels during local lockdowns amidst China’s zero Covid policy. Many people also discussed the apparent lack of humanity in some local lockdown measures.

“This child was only three years old. The epidemic has been going on for three years. He did not even get to see this world, and now he’s gone,” one commenter wrote on Weibo. “The epidemic prevention measures are harming so many people, what is Covid prevention really for? Where is your conscience?”

The Lanzhou Qilihe District Emergency Management Bureau sent out a statement on the night of November 1st, confirming that two family members suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning inside the family home. After being sent to hospital, the statement said, one person passed away after unsuccessful CPR, while the other was in stable condition. The statement warned people to make sure to correctly use gas-utilizing appliances inside their homes.

Although the statement, published by China Newsweek (中国新闻周刊), received over 140,000 likes and nearly 20,000 comments on Wednesday, not a single reply was available to view on Weibo at the time of writing, with the platform giving the standard notification that “comments are currently not available” (“抱歉,该内容暂时无法查看”).

The hashtag “Notification by Lanzhou Qilihe” (#兰州七里河通报#) received over 450 million views on Weibo on Wednesday.

This is the second major incident this month where a child’s death is linked to a delay or unavailability of emergency services. In October, the death of a 14-year-old girl at a Ruzhou Covid quarantine site in Pingdingshan, Henan Province, also sparked anger on Chinese social media. There were no doctors at the quarantine site and the staff initially did not arrange medical care for the girl, despite the family pleading for help multiple times.

The current outburst of anger has been building up for months. Chinese social media users have repeatedly expressed despair and frustrations over similar issues throughout 2022, with many stories circulating online of patients dealing with medical emergencies and not getting the help they need due to local lockdowns and epidemic prevention measures, from Xi’an in January to Shanghai in April.

“Who is lying, who is covering things up? Where is your conscious? Tonight, a father is grieving his loss,” one popular Weibo author wrote, posting an image with the words: “Will this world ever be ok?”

The online censorship surrounding the Lanzhou case only fuelled public anger. Another Weibo blogger wrote: “It is ridiculous that when the child needed an ambulance, it did not show up after waiting so long. Yet when it’s about suppressing the victim’s family and the crowds protesting over this, you’re faster than light. Unless you shut down the entire internet in Lanzhou, there is no way for you to cover this up. Everyone in China knows it’s a lie, it’s useless to make people shut up.”

“This is crazy. These past few years there’s been too many things that are just beyond belief. Don’t the lives of ordinary people matter? How many people have lost their income and their jobs because of the pandemic, and still they need to join the rat race. I can’t blame the people with money for wanting to migrate.”

“He did not catch Covid, yet he died because of Covid,” another person wrote.

Timeline of Events

In light of all the online discussions over the incident, Lanzhou City posted a statement on November 3rd in which they expressed their sadness over the 3-year-old’s death and further detailed what allegedly happened on November 1st.

According to the report, the emergency hotline (120) first spoke to the father, Mr Tuo, at 12:18. He called three times before from 12:15 to 12:18, but did not connect with 120 because he allegedly did not call “long enough.”

At 12:18, the 120 emergency response staff supposedly only received information about a woman falling and being unconscious. Since the incident took place in a ‘high-risk area,’ the dispatcher first contacted Lanzhou City Medical Management via WeChat, followed by an incredibly time-wasting and fuzzy process including online communications involving Lanzhou City Medical Management’s medical staff, the Health Commission of the Qilihe District, doctors at the Qilihe District Hospital, and Mr Tuo.

A doctor at the Qilihe District Hospital allegedly received information about the case at 12:32 and then attempted to reach Mr Tuo by phone multiple times from 12:32 until 13:06. It was not until 13:19, after the doctor finally spoke to Tuo and had given him first aid instructions, that an ambulance was dispatched.

The report claims that it was only at 13:23, over an hour after Tuo’s first call, that they learned about a young child being in need of emergency treatment as well. Two more emergency calls were made at 13:32 and 13:34. Apparently, the seriousness of the situation was finally realized at around 13:44, an hour and a half after Tuo’s initial plea for help, as ambulance staff got the order to stop disinfecting their ambulance and immediately rush to the scene.

At one point, the Lanzhou City report also mentions that Tuo was not wearing a mask when desperately pleading for help at the epidemic checkpoint at around 13:15, presenting this as if it were an important fact in this life-and-death situation.

At 13:55, Tuo finally received help from a local officer in stopping a taxi, which took him and his little son to the children’s hospital. Meanwhile, it took the ambulance until 14:03 to arrive at the scene, which is when they provided medical assistance to Tuo’s wife and took her to the hospital.

Mr Tuo’s 3-year-old son reportedly already had no pulse when arriving at the hospital at 14:05. After unsuccessful CPR efforts, the little boy was declared dead at 15:00.

The boy’s mother was able to get help at the hospital, made a recovery, and was later discharged.

The report concludes that Lanzhou authorities have learned from this tragic experience, writing that its emergency rescue system is clearly “not smooth”, the emergency response capacity “not strong”, and that they will do all they can to prevent such incidents from happening again in the future.

On Weibo, where one hashtag related to the report received over 330 million views (#兰州通报儿童中毒死亡事件#), many netizens were in disbelief after reading the timeline of events.

“So today I learned that when someone does not answer the phone, it is because the other party did ‘not call long enough,'” one person wrote.

“Lives don’t matter, whether or not you wear a face mask matters,” others replied.

One Weibo user wrote: “They dispatched an ambulance at 13:19 and it did not arrive until 14:03?”

Some also wondered why the first emergency response was to deal with the situation through online consultation, although Tuo had already indicated his wife was unconscious. “That one officer showed some humanity, but the rest of them acted like robots,” a popular comment said.

Amid the online outpouring of anger, the former Global Times editor-in-chief and well-known commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进) also responded to this issue. In his post, Hu focused on the last paragraph of the Lanzhou City statement, reiterating that this incident made them aware of their sluggish and inept emergency response system. Hu expressed that he hoped this tragedy could serve as a lesson, not just for Lanzhou but for every region across China, that every minute counts when it’s about rescuing people’s lives.

Despite the report and Hu’s comments, the anger remains. One popular comment on Douyin said: “You can all draw your lessons from this, but what about the child? Three years old. Gone. A family has been torn. How many more cases do you need in order to learn your lesson?”

Another commenter wrote: “I am not afraid of the epidemic, it’s the people I’m afraid of. My heart goes out to this child.”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

The “Final Round Players” of China’s Covid Outbreak

Those who still haven’t had Covid have made it to the “finals,” but it’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative.

Manya Koetse

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This Chinese Lunar New Year period, as millions of people are traveling across the country, Hangzhou Daily (杭州日报) posted a video on Weibo of a 13-year-old boy dressed in full protective clothing at the Hangzhou train station.

The young man told the reporter that he was on his way to visit his grandparents for the Chinese New Year. When asked why he was dressed in protective clothing from head to toe, he answered: “Because I haven’t had Covid yet.”

According to the video posted by Hangzhou Daily, the boy has made it to the “Final Rounds” (决赛圈) as he has managed to stay Covid-negative at a time when so many people have already been infected with Covid-19 (#挺进决赛圈的男孩穿防护服坐火车#).

Since China ‘optimized’ the last stringent measures of its ‘Zero Covid’ policy back in early December – including an end to mandatory mass testing, – a wave of Covid infections spread across the country. The number of infections and emergency department visits reportedly reached its peak in late December of 2022 and in early January of 2023.

According to Wu Zunyou (@吴尊友ChinaCDC), chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of China’s population has now been infected with Covid (“这一波疫情已经使得全国约80%的人感染过”).

As it is getting rarer to come across someone who has not had Covid yet, travelers dressed in full hazmat suits and protective gear are bound to stand out. “So many people on the train, and there are still two people in the crowd wearing protective clothing,” one Weibo user from Guangdong wrote. Others also post photos on social media of some of the few travelers still fully dressed in protective gear.

One blogger photographed a child wearing protective clothing at Chongqing West Station on Jan. 24, calling the protective attire “exaggerated,” and wondering how the child was supposed to go to the toilet.

Photo posted on Weibo by @杨品-光线摄影学院 on Jan 24., 2023.

Traveler wearing protective clothing at Hangzhou East Station, photo by @百鸣老屈.

Hangzhou Daily is not the only media outlet dubbing those who managed to stay negative “final round players” (决赛圈选手). In early January, Beijing Daily (北京日报​​​​) and People’s Daily (人民日报) also published a short article using the same phrase. In the article, the Beijing expert physician Dr. Li Dong (李侗) answered some questions about the so-called ‘finalists.’

According to Dr. Li Dong, some of the people who claim to have managed to stay ‘Covid free’ were never infected due to protective measures. But there are also those who may have actually had Covid-19 without realizing it, as they barely had any symptoms or were completely asymptomatic.

“Final round players, protect yourself!” one Weibo commenter writes: “Who else has managed to reach these finals?”

“As a ‘final player,’ I finally went out to eat and visit the shopping mall today. I’ll have to wait and see if I reach the championship level. If I haven’t caught [Covid], I can go on and lead a normal life; if I did catch it, I’ll need to wait a while, and will also be able to lead a normal life.”

Other persons who did not have Covid yet also share on social media that they went out for the first time during this Spring Festival period: “I cautiously went out and saw my first movie in 2023, Wandering Earth II, I picked a morning screening so that the cinema is not so crowded yet.”

Now that the Covid infections in China have peaked and the number of infected critically ill patients is quickly dropping, the fears over catching Covid are also seemingly fading among those who were not yet infected.

But some people who have not had Covid yet are still being careful, especially if it concerns elderly family members. It’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative – also for loved ones who did previously have Covid and want to protect their family.

One Fujian-based social media user writes: “I recovered from Covid and I’m spending the Spring Festival with three ‘final round players.’ We’ve been stuck inside the house for days. I’ve been looking at the lanterns and the lights in the neighborhood, watching them from the balcony, and I really wanted to go down and see.”

“Looking at WeChat Moments, all my friends are out traveling, but my family still hasn’t had Covid and we’re afraid to go out,” another netizen writes: “It’s sad to celebrate the New Year without going out. Guess we’re final-round players now, let’s hope it brings good things.”

Meanwhile, the group of ‘finalists’ is still shrinking. One Weibo user from Guangxi wrote: “I’ve left the finalist circle. It’s only been two days since I returned to my hometown and I’m already infected.”

By Manya Koetse 

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China and Covid19

Video Shows Real-Time “Departure” Information Board at Chinese Crematorium

From “cremation in process” to “cooling down,” the digital display shows the progress of the cremation to provide information to those waiting in the lobby. The crematorium ‘departure’ board strikes a chord with many.

Manya Koetse

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A video showing a live display screen announcing the names and status of the deceased at a Yunnan crematorium has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, from WeChat to Weibo, where one version of the video received over 1,7 million views.

Somewhat similar to a real-time platform departure display on train stations, the screen shows the waiting number of the deceased person, their name, gender, the name of the lounge/room (if any) for families, the name of the crematorium chamber, and the status of the cremation process. Below in the screen, it says “the final journey of a warm life” (温暖人生的最后旅程).

For example, the screen displays the names of a Mr. Chen and a Mr. Li; their bodies were in the process of being cremated (火化中), while other cremations were marked as “completed” (完成) or “cooling down” (降温中).

Through such a screen, located in the crematorium lobby, family members and loved ones can learn about the progress of the cremation of the deceased.

The video, recorded by a local on Jan. 7, received many comments. Among them, some people commented on the information board itself, while others simply expressed grief over those who died and the fragility of life. Many felt the display was confronting and it made them emotional.

“It makes me really sad that this how people’s lives end,” one commenter said, with another person replying that the display also shows you still need to wait in line even when you’re dead.

“I didn’t expect the screens [in the crematorium] to be like those in hospitals, where patients are waiting for their turn,” another Weibo user wrote. “It would be better if the names were hidden, like in the hospitals, to protect the privacy of the deceased,” another person replied.

Others shared their own experiences at funeral parlors also using such information screens.

Another ‘departure display’ at a Chinese crematorium, image shared by Weibo user.

“My grandfather passed away last September, and when we were at the undertaker’s, the display was also jumping from one name to the other and we could only comfort ourselves knowing that he was among those who lived a relatively long life.”

“Such a screen, it really makes me sad,” another commenter from Guangxi wrote, with others writing: “It’s distressing technology.”

Although the information screen at the crematorium is a novelty for many commenters, the phenomenon itself is not necessarily related to the Covid outbreak and the number of Covid-related deaths; some people share how they have seen them in crematoriums before, and funeral parlor businesses have used them to provide information to families since at least 2018.

According to an article published by Sohu News, more people – especially younger ones – have visited a funeral home for the first time in their lives recently due to the current Covid wave, also making it the first time for them to come across such a digital display.

The online video of such an information board has made an impact at a time when crematoriums are crowded and families report waiting for days to bury or cremate their loved ones, with especially a large number of elderly people dying due to Covid.

On Jan. 4, one social media user from Liaoning wrote:

I really suggest that the experts go to the crematoriums to take a look. There is no place to put the deceased, they’re parked outside in temporary containers, there’s no time left to hold a farewell ceremony and you can only directly cremate, and for those who were able to have a ceremony, they need to finish within ten minutes (..) At the funeral parlor’s big screen, there were eight names on every page, and there were ten pages for all the people in line that day, I stood there for half an hour and didn’t see the name of the person I was waiting for pop up anymore.”

As the video of the display in the crematorium travels around the internet, many commenters suggest that it is not necessarily the real-time ‘departure’ board itself that bothers them, but how it shows the harsh reality of death by listing the names of the deceased and their cremation status behind it. Perhaps it is the contrast between the technology of the digital display boards and the reality of the human vulnerability that it represents that strikes a chord with people.

One blogger who reposted the video on Jan. 13 wrote: “Life is short, cherish the present, let’s cherish what we have and love yourself, love your family, and love this world.” Among dozens of replies, some indicate that the video makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another commenter also wrote:

I just saw a video that showed an electronic display at a crematorium, rolling out the names of the deceased and the stage of the cremation. One name represents the ending of a life. And it just hit me, and my tears started flowing. I’m afraid of parting, I’m afraid of loss, I just want the people I love and who love me to stay by my side forever. I don’t want to leave. I’m afraid I’ll be alone one day, and that nobody will ever make me feel warm again.”

One person captured why the information board perhaps causes such unease: “The final moments that people still spent on this earth take place on the electronic screen in the memorial hall of the funeral home. Then, they are gone without a sound.”

 

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By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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