3-Year-Old’s Death Sparks Outcry Against China’s ‘Zero-COVID’ Policy


  • A 3-year-old boy died after a suspected gas leak in a quarantined residential complex in Lanzhou.
  • Health workers monitoring the gates did not assist the boy, his father said in a blog post.
  • The incident sparked outrage against China’s restrictive approach to containing COVID, per reports.

The father of a 3-year-old boy in Lanzhou, China, said his son died on Tuesday due to carbon monoxide poisoning after officials monitoring the gates of their residential complex failed to help seek medical assistance.

The father, Tuo Shilei, shared his story via a blog post on Wednesday. The incident has since prompted criticism of China’s “zero-COVID” policy, which could entail locking down entire neighborhoods or cities and severely limiting travel.

Around noon on Tuesday, Shilei’s wife fell ill and his son, Tuo Wenxuan, appeared to have collapsed due to gas poisoning, he wrote. According to The New York Times, police said there was a gas leak due to the “improper use” of a liquefied gas stove.

In a span of three minutes, Shilei called for emergency assistance four times over the phone, The New York Times reported. On the fourth call, a dispatcher answered and told the man that he could only receive virtual medical help because he lived in an area with a “high risk” of COVID-19.

Shilei then attempted to seek help from officials who monitor the gates of the residential compound, which was sealed due to a virus outbreak. The Los Angeles Times described the officials as health workers. But, Shilei wrote, the staff refused to help. They told Shilei to seek assistance from someone else and provide a COVID-19 test, the newspaper added. 

Shilei resorted to tearing down a fence that surrounded the neighborhood and got another person’s help to call a taxi to get to the hospital, according to his post. Shilei wrote that doctors couldn’t resuscitate his son who died of  gas poisoning. Shilei added that his wife recovered.

The child’s death has attracted public outrage against China’s restrictive strategy for combating coronavirus outbreaks, according to multiple reports.

Using a “zero-COVID policy” approach, the country can employ strict lockdowns in entire cities and severely bar people from movement outside of their neighborhoods in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus.

China has used this strategy for the past three years during the pandemic, keeping infection rates and deaths lower than that of other countries including the US. According to The New York Times, the strategy also has widespread public support.

However, critics have pointed out the economic toll of the approach, while some residents in lockdown areas have said they were restricted from buying basic necessities such as food, BBC reported.

According to The Los Angeles Times, one commenter on Weibo, a Chinese social media app, said that the measures should be used “to protect life and health, not to confront those who need to be rescued with obstacles!” 

Another comment noted that “three years of pandemic was his entire life,” CNN reported.

Lanzhou’s Mayor Zhang Weiwen pledged to “open up the ‘last mile'” of the quarantine borders so that people could seek medical treatment, The Los Angeles Times reported, citing Lanzhou Daily, a government newspaper.

Following the outcry, district health authorities promised to “deeply learn from the painful lessons of this accident,” according to The New York Times.

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