As cities across China follow up on Beijing’s newly relaxed Covid policies, the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing is investigating reports that a woman had a miscarriage after coronavirus restrictions resulted in treatment delays.
The woman reportedly required medical care but was not allowed to leave her locked-down compound in Jiulongpo district on Saturday (Nov 12), leading to the miscarriage.
In an official notice on WeChat on Sunday, the district government vowed to “investigate and punish those involved according to law”.
The incident in Chongqing is the latest high-profile case of a person not receiving essential medical care because of Covid-19 lockdowns or delays.
Two similar cases of miscarriage were reported in the city of Xian in December and January, and a 32-year-old man in Beijing reportedly died after waiting for an ambulance in May.
The Chongqing case occurred just a day after Beijing announced relaxation of the country’s Covid-19 restrictions.
On Friday, the State Council, China’s cabinet, unveiled a 20-point plan to slightly ease its previous measures, including shortening the quarantine period for domestic and international travellers and banning arbitrary mass testing in low-risk areas.
It specifically required local cities to “ensure normal production and livelihood”, promising to punish cities that arbitrarily imposed lockdowns, closed hospitals and schools and blocked transport.
Health authorities said on Sunday the changes were designed to adapt to the new characteristics of Covid-19 variants, to prevent outbreaks in a more scientific way, and to minimise harm to economic and social development.
The increasingly transmissible new variants have also made it difficult to continue with the containment strategy, though China has stressed repeatedly it would continue with the zero-Covid policy.
The changes came as outbreaks reached a new high across China, straining cities’ resources and finances and disrupting the flow of goods and people. On Sunday, China reported a total of 1,675 local confirmed cases and 13,086 asymptomatic cases.
In the southern transport hub of Guangzhou, cases reached a new high with 189 confirmed cases and 3,464 asymptomatic cases. The city has had more than 1,000 new daily infections for a week, mostly in its densely populated Haizhu district, despite strict controls.
In other parts of the country, major outbreaks have been recorded in Zhengzhou, Henan province, Chongqing, and Hohhot in Inner Mongolia.
On the weekend, local authorities rushed to bring their systems in line with the changes but residents say they have yet to feel the effect of the policies.
In Zhengzhou, where hundreds of Foxconn workers fled a factory due to an outbreak earlier this month, the government announced “precise designation of risk zones”, accurate to the street or a building, while Guangzhou immediately released 16,527 secondary Covid-19 close contacts from quarantine.
In Xinjiang, which has had on-and-off lockdowns for some six months, triggering waves of complaints online, the government vowed to “minimise prevention and control personnel”.
The capital Beijing also promised to help those unable to return to the city due to pandemic controls, saying – without giving details – it would improve “management and efficiency”.
One major source of complaints in the capital is a “pop-up window” on Beijing’s health code that indicates an individual’s “risk level” depending on where they have travelled. In past months, many have travelled outside Beijing for work or leisure, but have been unable to return for weeks.
Beijing resident Wang Hao said he struggled to get back into the city on Saturday night after a six-day business trip to Hangzhou on the east coast.
He said he had carefully studied where the no-risk areas were, followed all the prevention policies, tested daily and even walked everywhere to avoid catching the virus on public transport.
However, he still had a pop-up window on Saturday indicating that he had been to a risky area and could not return to Beijing. He managed to resolve the problem after a flurry of calls but he said he found the whole process chaotic and opaque.
“If I couldn’t return to Beijing, it would directly affect my work and family life,” he said. “They should really respect an individual’s rights and livelihood.”