Chinese local authorities apologised Thursday after a three-year-old boy died of carbon monoxide poisoning when medical care was delayed because of a Covid lockdown, in a rare admission of responsibility.
The northwestern city of Lanzhou has been locked down for nearly a month under China's harsh zero-Covid policy, which has seen millions of people across the country confined to their homes and often complaining of poor conditions, food shortages and slow emergency responses.
Local police had earlier confirmed the death of a child in a Tuesday statement but did not mention delays in accessing medical treatment.
The same day footage of people desperately administering the child CPR on a flatbed tricycle spread rapidly, along with videos of small neighbourhood protests that evening.
The boy's father, surnamed Tuo, wrote on social media Wednesday that he had been denied permission to leave his housing compound by workers stationed at a checkpoint, and that an ambulance did not arrive in time.
Over an hour later, he managed to break out of the compound and flag down a taxi to a hospital, shortly after which his son was pronounced dead, he said.
On Thursday district health authorities published a detailed account of the incident on social media and expressed their "sincere condolences" to the boy's relatives.
"We sincerely accept criticism and supervision from the media and netizens, and are determined to rectify (mistakes)," they wrote.
The Lanzhou authorities admitted it took over 90 minutes to dispatch an ambulance after the boy's father rang an emergency hotline multiple times, and they confirmed lengthy interactions with staff took place at the compound gate.
"This incident exposed blockages in the emergency rescue mechanism, weakness in emergency response capabilities, and the inflexibility of cadres' work," their statement said.
- Outrage -
Authorities said Tuo had eventually managed to flag a taxi with help from a policeman at another checkpoint.
However, Tuo said he had been forced to break through a checkpoint barrier and that it was a passer-by who helped him flag the ride.
He also claimed he was asked to present a PCR test result by community staff, despite the entire housing compound having been under lockdown and not tested for the previous 10 days.
The tragedy triggered a storm of online criticism of China's zero-Covid policy, with one related hashtag censored on Weibo after gaining hundreds of millions of views.
"Three years of the Covid pandemic have been his entire life," read one widely circulated comment.
"Even though I didn't experience it, I feel like I can't breathe," wrote another user.
The incident is the latest in a series of health emergencies that have provoked outrage after they were exacerbated by zero-Covid policies.
Late last month censors scrubbed posts 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.
In January, a pregnant woman in the city of Xi'an miscarried after being refused hospital entry for not having a PCR test result.