Beijing — The 14 women from northwest China cried silently as a group of men shaved off their long black hair, a precaution meant to help prevent infection before they treat patients inflicted with the deadly new coronavirus. The nurses were featured in a video released at the weekend by the Gansu Daily, a media outlet affiliated with the provincial government. While the report sought to highlight their sacrifice and bravery, it generated anger on social media.

By Tuesday, an article titled “Stop Using Women’s Bodies as Propaganda Tools” had been viewed more than 100,000 times on the messaging app WeChat. Users asked if the women had been forced to participate, and if the practice was even backed by science. As criticism grew online, it was removed from Gansu Daily’s account on Weibo. The hospital where the women worked told local media that they had volunteered to shave their heads...

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