By Martin Quin Pollard
BEIJING (Reuters) - The father of a 3-year-old boy who died on Tuesday from carbon monoxide poisoning in northwest China said strict COVID-19 policies "indirectly killed" his son by causing delays obtaining treatment, in a case that has sparked social media outrage.
The boy's death is the latest incident to trigger blowback over China's strict zero-COVID policy, with one critical hashtag racking up 380 million reads on Wednesday on the Twitter-like Weibo platform.
"I personally think that he was indirectly killed," the boy's father, Tuo Shilei, told Reuters by phone from the Gansu provincial capital Lanzhou, which has been under lockdowns for several months.
At around midday on Tuesday, after his wife slipped and fell after being affected by gas fumes while cooking, Tuo noticed that his son, Wenxuan, was also unwell. Tuo said he tried desperately to call for an ambulance or police, but could not get through.
After about 30 minutes Wenxuan's condition worsened, and Tuo said he performed CPR, which helped briefly. He rushed with his son to the entrance of their community compound, under strict lockdown, but staff at the gate would not let him past, telling him to call neighbourhood authorities or an ambulance.
Frantic and unwilling to wait any longer for an ambulance, Tuo crashed through the barriers with his son and some "kind-hearted" locals called a taxi to take them to a hospital, where doctors' efforts to save Wenxuan were unsuccessful.
"There was the COVID situation at the checkpoint. The staff did not act, and then ignored and avoided the problem, and then we were blocked by another checkpoint," said Tuo, who is 32 and owns a small meat shop.
"No help was provided. This series of events caused the death of my child."
The Lanzhou government and department of health and the Gansu provincial government did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Reuters was not immediately able to reach the hospital where the boy died.
During last month's ruling Communist Party Congress, President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China's commitment to the zero-COVID policy that has made it a global outlier and led to disruptive and draconian lockdowns in cities across the country.
'THREE YEARS OF COVID WAS HIS ENTIRE LIFE'
The Lanzhou incident began trending on social media after a video was shared on Tuesday of Wenxuan receiving CPR while on the back of a three-wheeled truck, along with a comment suggesting he died due to delays getting treatment.
One hashtag, "Three years of COVID was his entire life", became a trending topic before being scrubbed, a common occurance on China's heavily censored Internet.
"The kid's memory will sadly be of masks and nothing else," Weibo user Banmiaoxiaozhou wrote.
"Is there any trust left in the authorities?" another user, called Lawyer Zhong Guohua, wrote.
Numerous cases of people dying because they were unable to get medical care due to COVID restrictions have drawn viral outrage this year, including during Shanghai's two-month lockdown.
In January, a senior Chinese official warned hospitals not to turn away patients after a woman's miscarriage during a lockdown in Xian sparked fury.
Tuo said he was later contacted by a person who said they were a retired local official and offered to arrange for Tuo to be sent 100,000 yuan ($13,743) if he signed a pledge agreeing not to go public or seek redress over the incident.
Tuo said he rejected the offer, instead demanding an explanation for his son's death.
On Wednesday morning, a funeral for Wenxuan was held in the family's nearby hometown of Hezheng. Tuo did not attend, for fear of being quarantined on arrival.
($1 = 7.2766 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard; Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Tony Munroe and Alex Richardson)