Residents of the Chinese city of Xi’an endure a severe Coronavirus Lockdown, with business owners suffering even more closings and some people complaining of difficulty finding food, despite authorities having assured they are able to provide what they need to the 13 million people who mostly live in their homes.
In China, tough measures are common to contain outbreaks that are still going on a policy to stamp out every COVID-19 case long after many other countries chose to live with the virus. But the lockdown imposed in Xi’an on December 23 is one of the toughest in the country since a 2020 closure in and around Wuhan after the coronavirus was first detected there.
On Tuesday, authorities announced that another city, Yuzhou in Henan Province, had been locked down over the weekend after only three asymptomatic cases were discovered.
The Chinese have largely adhered to the strict measures throughout the pandemic, but complaints of tough policies have surfaced despite the risk of retaliation from communist authorities. However, the Xi’an lockdown comes at a particularly sensitive time as China prepares to host the Beijing Winter Olympics, which opens on February 4, and is therefore under particularly heavy pressure to contain the outbreak.
“I can’t leave the building and it’s getting harder and harder to buy groceries online,” said a resident of Xi’an, who posted on the Weibo social media platform under the name Mu Qingyuani Sayno. The post was from a verified account, but the person didn’t respond to a request for additional comments.
Zhang Canyou, an expert on the State Council’s epidemic prevention and control team, admitted that “there may be supply pressures in communities.”
But he was also quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying, “The government will do everything possible to coordinate resources to provide people with daily needs and medical care.”
The lockdown in Xi’an originally allowed people to leave home every two days to shop for basic groceries, but has since been tightened, although rules vary in each district based on the severity of the outbreak. Some people are not even allowed to go out and have to have goods delivered. People are only allowed to leave the city with special permission.
In the past few days, people in Xi’an have been seen shopping at pop-up markets, served from head to toe by workers in white protective suits. Community volunteers also visited people’s homes to ask what they needed.
But the strain is beginning to show as residents increasingly complain about Weibo that they are unable to get what they need. One popular video was shown how guards attacked a man who was trying to deliver steamed buns to family members. The guards later apologized to the man and were each fined 200 yuan (US $ 31), according to a statement by the Xi’an police posted on Weibo.
In an online diary on the popular Weixin website, a Xi’an-based writer said that after an initial wave of panic buying and market closings, residents soon began searching for groceries online.
“In this age of material surplus, where everyone is trying to lose weight, finding enough to eat is suddenly a difficult task,” wrote Jiang Xue. A message sent to the account was not immediately returned.
China’s “zero tolerance” strategy of quarantining every case, running mass tests and trying to block new infections from abroad helped contain previous outbreaks. But the lockdowns are far stricter than anything seen in the west, and they have taken an enormous toll on the economy and the lives of millions of people.
The measures often take effect after just a few identified cases, as was shown in Yuzhou. Since the rules were imposed there on Sunday, residents have been allowed to return to the 1.7 million city, but are not allowed to leave and have to isolate themselves at home. Only emergency vehicles are allowed on the streets of the city. Restaurants, sports facilities and a variety of other shops have been closed, while markets can only offer the bare essentials, according to an order from the city government.
Meanwhile, Xi’an, home of the famous terracotta army statues and key industries, has seen more than 1,600 cases in a surge that officials say is powered by the Delta variant, which is less contagious than the newer Omicron strain , of which China has only reported a handful of cases. Another 95 infections were reported on Tuesday.
China has reported a total of 102,841 cases and 4,636 deaths since the pandemic began. Although these numbers are relatively small compared to the US and other countries, and, like everywhere else, likely to be under-counted, they show the persistence of the virus despite China’s sometimes draconian measures.
A third round of mass tests has been ordered for Xi’an, which, according to state media, can wipe 10 million people in just seven hours and process up to 3 million results in just 12 hours.
While Wuhan’s health system was overwhelmed after the pandemic began in late 2019, China has not reported any shortages of beds or medical equipment and staff in Xi’an. Two dozen special teams have been set up to handle COVID-19 cases and two hospitals have been set up for other types of care, Xinhua reported.
China has vaccinated nearly 85% of its population, according to Our World in Data. The vaccinations have helped reduce the severity of the disease, although Chinese vaccines are considered less effective than others.
As a sign that authorities are under pressure to contain this outbreak, officials have been warned that if they do not reduce the number of new cases, they will lose their jobs. According to a statement from the government of the surrounding Shaanxi Province, the two top Communist Party officials in Yanta District, where half of the city’s cases have been recorded, have already been sacked.
The head of a tourism company reached by telephone said on Tuesday that the supply was basically sufficient, but that his business had been suffering since July.
“Now with the lockdown, the effect was extremely big,” said the man, who only gave his last name, Wen, as is common among the Chinese.
Qin Huilin, who works at a traditional mutton soup restaurant, said the lockdown brought business to a standstill.
“We used to have about a hundred customers a day, but haven’t had any for more than a dozen days since the lockdown,” Qin said over the phone. “The impact on our business is significant, but I can go shopping every day for a few days in supermarkets and there are enough supplies there.”
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