Woman in locked-down Xi’an denied medical care, has miscarriage at eight months pregnant

Society & Culture

The city government has pledged to make healthcare services available even during a strict lockdown in Xi’an after a woman lost her baby at the front door of a hospital that refused her entry because of COVID-19 protocols.

A worker delivers food supplies to residents at a residential compound under lockdown following the COVID-19 outbreak in Xian, Shaanxi province. cnsphoto via Rruters.

After a woman suffered a miscarriage due to COVID-delayed medical attention, authorities in the Chinese city of Xi’an, where its 13 million residents are already two weeks into a lockdown, said on Wednesday that it had prohibited local hospitals from rejecting patients due to COVID-19 concerns. 

The directive was revealed today at a press briefing, where Xú Míngfēi 徐明非, the vice mayor of the city, updated the public on recent case numbers in Xi’an and efforts currently underway to stamp out the outbreak. At one point during his speech, Xu announced (in Chinese) that in order to prevent virus transmissions at medical facilities, a new initiative had been put in place for residents with urgent but COVID-unrelated medical needs. 

According to Xu, the special arrangement involves a helpline assisting callers to find nearby medical resources, a fleet of cars designated for their transportation between hospitals and homes, and fast-track access to medical care for certain high-risk population groups, including pregnant women and those who need procedures like hemodialysis and chemotherapy. For people outside these groups, Xu added that hospitals have no right to turn them away as long as they have a negative COVID test taken within 48 hours of the visit.

While there was no mention of specific problems that the new policies were intended to solve, it’s clear that the move was in response to media reports about the woman who miscarried after being refused entry to a hospital in Xi’an. 

The story first broke on Tuesday when the woman’s niece took to social media to vent her ire. According to her account (in Chinese), her sister-in-law, who was eight months pregnant, called an ambulance on the evening of January 1 after feeling intense pain in her abdomen. But when she arrived at a hospital, she was denied emergency care because the validity of her latest COVID-19 test had expired by two hours. 

Despite the husband’s pleas, the hospital refused to budge, leaving the woman bleeding profusely outside the facility for two hours. By the time the hospital changed its mind and finally took in the woman, she had waited for four hours and had already miscarried, the niece wrote. 

The post, which contained a graphic photo of the woman bleeding heavily on the street, quickly went viral on the Chinese internet, leading to a public outcry over how visitation restrictions in Xi’an hospitals during the outbreak have made life inconvenient — and, in some cases, even life-threatening — for residents in the city. 

Since Xi’an went into a lockdown on December 23 in an effort to curb spiraling coronavirus infections, most local hospitals have suspended regular visits as medical resources have been stretched thin by mass testing and treatment of COVID patients. At other hospitals that remained open to the general public, visitors had to meet strict COVID-19 testing requirements whatever their vaccination status. Meanwhile, those who displayed COVID-19 symptoms were prohibited from visiting hospitals, and required to report their cases to community workers and seek medical care through them. 

Following Xu’s orders, the Women’s Federation and the health commission of Shaanxi Province, of which Xi’an is the capital, said (in Chinese) today that they had opened an investigation into the woman’s pregnancy loss. According to Oriental Outlook (in Chinese), a Shanghai-based magazine affiliated with state news agency Xinhua, government officials in some neighborhoods have ordered community workers to gather information about pregnant women in their areas, and make sure that they have steady access to regular tests and urgent care. 

The miscarriage was the latest springboard for Xi’an residents to voice their indignation at the perceived incompetence of the local govenrment in handling the ongoing outbreak, To date, more than 1,800 COVID-19 cases have been identified in the city, where its residents have been confined to their homes for the past two weeks. Although the strict lockdown seemed to be working — Xi’an reported a major drop in COVID-19 infections today — anguish and anger among people in Xi’an have been on full display multiple times with social media campaigns complaining about food shortages, delayed or insufficient grocery deliveries, and sudden orders of centralized quarantine.