China’s zero-Covid policy put to test by Xi’an lockdown

Since December, the ancient city, known as the home of the Terracotta Warriors, has been battling China’s largest community coronavirus outbreak since Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic.

So far, more than 1,600 cases have been reported in the city. While the number is lower than in many other countries, the outbreak pushed China’s caseload in the last week of 2021 to its highest level since March 2020.

For 12 days and counting, Xi’an’s 13 million residents have been confined to their homes. The city, formerly a tourist hotspot, welcomed the new year with deserted streets, closed shops, sealed residential complexes and an empty airport.

The lockdown is the strictest and biggest since Wuhan, which locked down 11 million people in early 2020.
But it is also the most chaotic, leaving residents short of food and other essential supplies and affecting access to medical services.

Underscoring the growing challenge facing China’s zero-Covid policy, a base of anger and frustration has emerged in the local government, which calls for mass testing, widespread quarantines and snap lockdowns to stamp out any resurgence of the virus. Depends on a playbook.

For nearly two years, these stringent measures have protected much of the country from the worst aspects of the pandemic, garnering huge public support. But as the local outbreak grows, outrage in Xi’an raises questions about how long a zero-Covid can be maintained before public support begins, leaving millions of residents caught in an endless cycle of lockdowns.

China tightens Xi's lockdown as city records highest daily Covid-19 cases in nearly 2 years

Over the past week, Chinese social media has been screaming for help and criticism over the perceived incompetence of the local Xi’an government. Residents flooded a livestream of a government COVID news conference with demands for groceries – prompting embarrassed officials to disable all comments.

Despite some censorship, the issue has continued to gain traction. On China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo, the hashtag “grocery shopping in Xi’an is difficult” has garnered 380 million views as of Monday.

Many expressed disappointment that they had not hoarded food in advance as local officials had repeatedly reassured them that food supplies were plentiful and there was no need to panic.

In the first few days of the lockdown, each family was allowed to send a designated person out to buy groceries every two days. But as cases rose, Xi’an further tightened lockdown measures, requiring all residents to stay at home unless allowed to go out for mass testing.

A comment on Weibo said, “At first I thought panic-buying people were stupid. Now I realize I’m stupid.”

Faced with public outcry, local officials promised steady delivery of groceries to residents, with state media carrying footage of food in the residential complex. While some neighborhoods were downplayed by supply shortages, other residents complained on social media – including comments at the bottom of state media posts – that they had not received such deliveries in their communities.

Meanwhile, the heavy-handed approach adopted to enforce the lockdown in some areas has fueled further outrage.

On Friday, footage surfaced on Weibo of a man being beaten up by COVID prevention workers at the gate of a residential complex when he tried to enter with a bag of steamed buns. In the video, which immediately went viral, buns were seen scattered on the ground as the man fell. The ensuing outrage prompted a police statement, which said the two attackers were given seven days in custody and fined 200 yuan (about $30).

For some, the cost of the lockdown was too high. Last week, state media reported two incidents of individuals going to extreme lengths to escape Xi’an before the restrictions.

China 'zero-Covid' but cases above zero for seven weeks

A man trekked 100 kilometers (62 mi) across the Qinling mountain range from Xi’an airport, avoiding several village checkpoints along the way before he was finally seen and taken into quarantine eight days into his journey on 24 December Gone. A statement from Ningshan County Police.

In a second incident, a man cycled for 10 hours at night in freezing temperatures in an attempt to return to his hometown, when he learned Xi’an would be shut down the next day. According to a statement from Chunhua County Police, he was taken into quarantine and fined 200 yuan.

Despite the difficulties, Xi’an authorities have repeatedly publicly pledged their resolve to contain the outbreak.

At a news conference on Sunday, Liu Guozhong, the boss of the Communist Party of Shaanxi province, whose capital is Xi’an, “to raise our spirits, spread awareness to achieve 100% prevention, control and isolation, prioritize epidemic prevention.” Vowed to give and take control in urban villages and achieve the goal of bringing matters down to zero in the society at the earliest.”
In a show of resolve, the party secretary of Yanta district, one of the worst-hit areas in the outbreak, was sacked, joining a long list of local officials who were fired for failing to quell the COVID-19 outbreak. Was.

The drastic lockdown measures seem to be working. On Sunday, Xi’an’s daily case count fell to 122 for the first time in more than a week, followed by Monday’s 90 cases.

If the trend continues, it will probably take only a few weeks for Xi’an to successfully contain the outbreak, as has been the case in other cities in the past. But this won’t be the last time the coronavirus – and the strong response to eradicate it – causes significant disruption to daily life and the local economy.

For now, it is a zero-Covid goal that China is determined to achieve – even if it pushes the public’s patience to the limit.

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