Two schoolboys in China have dropped dead within a week of one another while taking part in compulsory physical education examinations while wearing a face mask.
Major Chinese cities and provinces are moving to cancel this term’s running tests amid concerns over student fitness following three months of lockdown and school closures.
Possible breathing difficulties during the exam while mask-wearing remains mandatory in the absence of a vaccine have also led to the decision, reports said.
It comes after two 14-year-old boys ‘suddenly’ collapsed on their school running track and were subsequently declared dead in the county of Dancheng in Henan Province and the city of Changsha in Hunan Province – both in Central China.
Parent Mr Li, whose son attended Dancheng Caiyuan Middle School, said CCTV images of the incident showed his boy doing laps of the athletics track for this PE class when he fell backwards on 24th April.
Mr Li said: “It happened within two to three minutes during his physical training class.
“He was wearing a mask while lapping the running track, then he suddenly fell backwards and hit his head on the ground.
“His teacher and classmates then tried to pull and drag him back up.”
The parent said a local hospital issued a death certificate claiming ‘sudden cardiac arrest’ as the cause of death, and the family has opted against an autopsy in order to preserve the boy’s body.
However, Mr Li said: “I suspect it was because he was wearing a mask.
“It was sunny and their PE class was in the afternoon when it was at least 20 degrees Celsius.
“It couldn’t have been comfortable wearing a mask while running.”
The school has paid Mr Li 370,000 RMB (42,000 GBP) in damages, even though there was no conclusive link between his son’s death and the fact he was wearing a mask.
Mr Li’s son had only been back at school for four days after classes resumed on 20th April for the first time since late January.
Mr Li, 45, and his wife, 38, buried their son on 30th April, the same day a second boy died in similar circumstances just six days after Mr Li’s son.
The pupil attending Changsha’s Xiangjun Future Experimental School was reportedly taking part in a 1,000-metre (3,280-foot) running exam while wearing an N95 respirator when he collapsed and died.
He is also thought to have died due to breathing difficulties during the PE exam, but it was unclear at the time of writing whether an autopsy had been ordered.
As the wearing of masks is now mandatory in Chinese schools, concerns over restricted breathing and overall student fitness have led to end-of-term PE exams being cancelled in the major port cities of Tianjin and Shanghai.
The provinces of Shaanxi and Zhejiang have removed running from their examination requirements, while manufacturing hub Shenzhen said it would be offering an alternative option for its physical training exam due to the Guangdong provincial government’s decision to leave plans unchanged.
The provinces of Sichuan as well as Hunan, where the second death occurred, will also go ahead with year-end PE tests as usual.
Cao Lanxiu, professor at Shaanxi University of Chinese Medicine, disagreed with suggestions that Mr Li’s son’s mask might have caused him to suffocate to death due to a lack of oxygen.
Ms Cao told local media: “I don’t think mask-wearing has caused this sudden death.”
She said in the vast majority of cases the mask would not have caused the death and added: “If this student had trouble breathing, he would’ve been conscious of that and wouldn’t have continued to run with the mask on until his heart stopped.”
Ms Cao added however that the only way to conclusive proof how Mr Li’s son died was to agree to an autopsy.
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