Millions of people have been confined to their homes in China as the government attempts to bring COVID-19 numbers back to zero, resulting in shortages of food, and of medical supplies for those suffering from non-COVID diseases.
The northwestern city of Xian, a metropolis of 13 million people and home of the famous Terracotta Warriors, was sealed off two weeks ago after some 143 people were diagnosed with COVID—a tiny figure when compared with Western nations, but enough to trigger a harsh lockdown in China. As of Tuesday, 1,758 COVID patients had been recorded, with 23 of them categorized as severe or critical cases.
This week, the city of Yuzhou also imposed strict lockdown measures on its 1.1 million residents after three asymptomatic cases were detected. All public transportation was suspended and restaurants were ordered to close. People were banned from leaving the city as officials tested everyone for the coronavirus. By Tuesday, 20 positive cases were detected, including 18 asymptomatic ones.
China’s COVID numbers are much lower than those of most other countries, with the U.S. alone reporting more than 1 million new cases on Monday as it set a new global daily record. But under Beijing’s zero-COVID campaign, small outbreaks are enough to prompt ultra-strict measures around quarantine, mass testing and citywide lockdowns. The upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics is also adding pressure on officials to eliminate local cases as soon as possible.
But although the approach has been credited with saving millions of lives and enjoys strong public support, the human cost of prolonged lockdowns are leading to growing discontent.
In Xian, with people no longer allowed to leave their homes to buy groceries, government workers are struggling with delivering food and necessities to all the households, and residents have posted desperate calls for help online seeking supplies and medical care.
In a widely shared post on the microblogging site Weibo, a woman said that her aunt, who was eight months pregnant, suffered from a hemorrhage on New Year’s Day while waiting outside a local hospital that refused to treat her immediately. The patient later had a miscarriage. Local authorities told Chinese media they were looking into the case.
In another viral post, a woman said her father died of a heart attack on Sunday evening after a hospital refused to admit him because he was from a COVID “medium-risk area.” VICE World News could not independently verify the post.
The stories evoked memories of the 76-day lockdown of Wuhan in early 2020, and prompted outrage as people question if citizens’ lives have become collateral damage in the government’s zero-COVID campaign.
“Isn’t the purpose of epidemic control to save lives?” a Weibo user commented on Wednesday. “How come it is now hurting lives?”
Local officials said the lockdown would be gradually lifted only after the city eliminates COVID transmissions in the community.
Some people from Xian have gone to great lengths trying to avoid being trapped in the lockdown. Last week, police caught a man from Xian who spent nine days hiking some 100 kilometers in the mountains trying to evade all the COVID-19 checkpoints as he fled the city before it was locked down.
Another man biked for 10 hours overnight in near-zero temperatures in an attempt to sneak out of Xian. He was caught, placed in quarantine and fined $31.
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