In zero-covid China, a daughter’s struggle to get her father’s medicine strikes a chord

(CNN) — What was meant to be a simple errand, from a daughter driving her elderly father to the hospital to pick up his medicine, has drawn national attention to a small town on China’s border with North Korea — and COVID-19 measures -19 after almost two months of confinement—, after the couple came into conflict with the rules of the pandemic.

The video of the scene, whose hashtag Related has been viewed more than 1,000 million times on Weibo, a platform similar to China’s Twitter, shows a confrontation between the driver, identified by the Police as a 41-year-old woman, surnamed Hao, her father and a police officer. the local police, who stopped Hao at a security checkpoint because he did not have the proper authorization.

In the video, shot in the northeastern city of Dandong, Hao got out of his car and can be heard yelling, in palpable anguish, that he’s already been tested for Covid-19 and that his housing community has given him permission to go outside. go to the hospital to pick up the medicine.

The police officer prevents her from getting back into the car and pushes her. She then falls to the ground and her 70-year-old father slaps the officer in the face.

Later in the video, the officer can be seen forcibly dragging Hao out of his car onto the ground.

Hao’s apparent transgression? Her health code was not green, but yellow, a status that meant she was not allowed to move within the city, based on local rules that rely on codes now ubiquitous in China to control who can move where.

In a statement on Wednesday, a day after the incident, local police said they had issued Hao a 10-day administrative detention for obstructing his work, while his father had received a “mandatory criminal measure,” which could result in more charges, according to state media, on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.

The two “violated checkpoints” and were detained “in accordance with the law,” police said in a statement, adding that Hao had “refused to cooperate and abide by epidemic prevention regulations.”

In a separate statement the next day, police said Hao’s test results were not yet available, which is why his code remained yellow and his father had not taken the required test, according to the state-run China newspaper. News Weekly.

Hao also responded publicly after the incident, explaining in a video widely shared on social media that he was driving to pick up hard-to-find medicine for his father, who was recovering from surgery and suffering from a form of neuralgia.

“With this kind of pain, you can’t eat, you can’t talk, you can’t sleep,” he said. “Who said code yellow can’t get through? If that’s the case, sick people can just sit there and die.”

CNN tried to contact Hao, but was unable to contact her.

As video of the situation circulated in the following days, the police response shocked the Chinese public, with many people growing increasingly frustrated with the strict rules that now dictate their freedom of movement amid the country’s accession to a covid zero policy, in which the eradication of the infection is the highest priority.

“This wave of public opinion has already risen, and normal people would surely support the father and daughter,” one Weibo user wrote, in a comment that received tens of thousands of likes.

“If you don’t let the father and daughter go out, you have to help them solve the problem. If you can help them, then they won’t come out. The policeman knew that they were going to look for medicine. The police don’t help them get medicine? Epidemic prevention is to serve and protect people, not a reason to stop people,” the comment read.

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The incident follows countless reports of people being unable to access adequate or timely medical care due to tight COVID-19 restrictions.

Those problems and frustrations with China’s Covid-19 regulations have been most visible in Shanghai, where an earlier two-month lockdown of 25 million people sparked small-scale protests and became a symbol of how far the Communist Party will go. of China to enforce its goal of covid zero.

But the incident in Dandong last week has highlighted the situation in smaller cities, particularly those close to China’s land borders. Such places often come under stricter measures as authorities fear they may be an entry point for imported virus cases, but may not be in public view.

Ruili, a city of about 200,000 people in Yunnan province on the border with Myanmar, has suffered intermittent lockdowns since the pandemic began.

“In a place like Shanghai, you hear stories that show the rise in social unrest, the rise in socio-economic cost, but in smaller cities like (Ruili) and Dandong, you won’t get a sense of what’s going on until those stories become making headlines on social media,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

In Dandong, which is separated from North Korea by the Yalu River, a series of Covid-19 outbreaks since late April has forced authorities to keep the city of 2.2 million people largely under strict confinement measures.

A brief and limited easing in mid-May was quickly replaced by a new round of lockdown days later.

That has left Dandong cut off from the rest of the country, with flights and trains grounded for months, according to state media.

And fears of the virus spreading across the border after North Korea reported a major outbreak last month also prompted officials to ask residents living near the river to keep their windows closed in buildings. windy days and that they did not touch the water, measures with little connection to the scientific norms around the prevention of covid-19.

Since May 24, Dandong has seen 249 confirmed cases in its central urban area, officials said on Friday. China does not include asymptomatic cases in its tally of confirmed cases.

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An uncertain future

On the heels of the uproar over the situation between Hao, his father and the police, Dandong on Thursday announced a relaxation of certain restrictions in the city, essentially removing obstacles to movement within the city for residents in areas not under special command. .

But even with the easing, strong restrictions remain. People are only allowed to leave the city under “special circumstances,” and residents who can move freely still need a negative Covid-19 test taken no more than 48 hours in advance. Schools remain online and public transport has not reopened, according to the government announcement.

At a press conference on Friday, the city’s mayor, Hao Jianjun, said he was “well aware” of the gap between the city’s epidemic prevention measures and residents’ expectations.

“The initiatives we are taking are not precise enough, and the weariness of carrying out operations for a long time has caused some workers to get tired and lazy and their methods are simple and crude,” he said, pledging to take opinions into account. of the residents.

The loosening of some rules in Dandong came as Shanghai’s top official declared on Saturday that the city had “won the battle” against covid-19 after the city reported zero local infections for the first time since February 23. Starting this Wednesday, indoor dining services will be restored in low-risk areas, approximately four weeks after the city’s lockdown was lifted.

But even as cities tentatively lift some measures, it’s clear that stringent testing requirements and health code checks are here to stay across the country as long as the covid-zero policy remains.

For the Dandong woman, Hao, who would currently not serve her 10-day detention due to the pandemic, according to state media, a human side remained to be recognized amid the restrictions.

“Perhaps you also have a sick family member, a child or an elderly person at home. You may have encountered the same problem as me when you were trying to seek medical help,” he said in his online statement.

“People without empathy cannot understand what you felt in that moment.”

— CNN’s Beijing bureau contributed to this report.