City government

China warns hospitals against rejecting patients over COVID restrictions as cases decline

BEIJING, Jan. 7 (Reuters) – China reported fewer COVID cases on Friday as several cities curbed movements, while a senior official warned hospitals not to turn away patients after a miscarriage of ‘a woman during a lockdown in Xian City sparked outrage.

China reported 116 locally transmitted infections with confirmed clinical symptoms as of Thursday, mainly in Xian and Henan province, up from 132 a day earlier, according to official data released on Friday.

Xian, a city of 13 million people in northwestern China, has entered its 16th day of containment, although officials have said the outbreak has been brought under control there. Xian is in Shaanxi province which borders Henan.

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“The risk of a large-scale rebound in (Xian’s) epidemic has been largely contained,” Xinhua’s official news service said quoting Li Qun, a disease control and prevention official, in an article published Thursday evening.

During Xian’s lockdown, residents complained about restricted access to food and medical care, and the story of a pregnant woman who lost her unborn baby after waiting outside a local hospital for two hours angered on Chinese social media and led to the punishment of city officials.

Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said she was “painted and deeply ashamed” of the difficulties people have in obtaining hospital services in Xian, the Xinhua News Agency said.

“Medical institutions (…) should not just turn away patients under any excuse during COVID screening,” Sun said.

The city government said on Friday that people without proof of a negative test result within 48 hours should not be barred from leaving their residential complexes to go to hospital, reversing a previous requirement.

Outbreaks in China remain minimal compared to many overseas, and the highly transmissible variant of Omicron has yet to be announced among local infections in Henan or Xian, but local governments have maintained a large vigilance.

China’s policy of preventing any cluster from spreading further has taken on added urgency in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, which will be held in Beijing and neighboring Hebei province from Feb.4, and with the Lunar New Year holiday season starting in less than two weeks.

There were no new deaths on Thursday, leaving the death toll unchanged at 4,636. Mainland China had 103,295 confirmed symptomatic cases as of Jan. 6, including local and imported cases.

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Reporting by Tony Munroe, Roxanne Liu, Gabriel Crossley and Ella Cao; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Raju Gopalakrishnan

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