Residents of the Chinese city of Xi’an are straining under a severe coronavirus lockdown, with some complaining about difficulty finding food, despite assurances from the authorities that they are able to provide necessities for the 13 million people who are largely confined to their homes.
Strict measures to curb outbreaks are common in China, which still maintains a policy of eradicating all cases of COVID-19 long after many other countries have chosen to try to live with the virus. But the shutdown imposed on December 23 in Xi’an is one of the toughest in the country since a shutdown in 2020 in and around Wuhan, after coronavirus was first discovered there.
On Tuesday, authorities announced that another city, Yuzhou in Henan Province, was put under lockdown over the weekend after the discovery of just three asymptomatic cases.
The Chinese have largely complied with the harsh measures throughout the pandemic, but complaints have surfaced about harsh policies 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 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which opens on February 4, and is therefore under particularly intense pressure to curb this outbreak.
“Can not leave the building and it is becoming more and more difficult to buy food online,” said a resident of Xi’an, who wrote on the social media platform Weibo under the name Mu Qingyuani Sayno. The post was from a verified account, but the person did not respond to a request for further comment.
Zhang Canyou, an expert from the State Department’s epidemic prevention and control team, admitted that “there may be supply pressures in local communities.”
But he was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying, “The government will go to great lengths to coordinate resources to provide people with daily necessities and medical services.”
The blockade in Xi’an originally allowed people to leave the house every other day to buy basic goods, but it has since been tightened, although the rules vary according to the severity of the outbreak in each district. Some people are not allowed to go out at all and must have goods delivered to them. People can only leave the city with special permission.
In recent days, people in Xi’an have been seen shopping in pop-up markets, served by workers in white protective suits from head to toe. Community volunteers also visited people’s homes to ask what they needed.
Still, the strain is starting to show, with residents increasingly complaining to Weibo that they are unable to buy necessities. In a very shared video, one could see guards attacking a man who had tried to deliver steamed buns to family members. The guards later apologized to the man and were each fined 200 yuan ($ 31), according to a statement from Xi’an police 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 the closing of markets, residents quickly began searching for food online.
“In this time of material surplus, where everyone is trying to lose weight, it has suddenly become a difficult task to find enough to eat,” Jiang Xue wrote. A message sent to the account was not immediately returned.
China’s “zero tolerance” strategy of quarantining all cases, mass testing and trying to block new infections from abroad helped curb previous outbreaks. But the shutdowns are far stricter than anything else seen in the West, and they have demanded a huge toll on the economy and the lives of millions of people.
The measures often fall into place after only a few cases are identified, as was seen in Yuzhou. Since the rules were introduced there on Sunday, residents have been allowed to return to the city with 1.7 million people, but they are not allowed to leave and have to isolate themselves at home. Only emergency vehicles are allowed on city roads. Restaurants, sports facilities and a host of other businesses have been ordered to close, while markets can only offer basic necessities, an order from the city council said.
Meanwhile, Xi’an, home of the famous Terracotta Army statues along with major industries, has seen more than 1,600 cases in a rise that officials say is driven by the delta variant, which is less contagious than the newer omicron strain, of which China has reported only a handful of cases. Another 95 infections were announced 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 probably underestimate, as they are everywhere, they show that the virus continues despite the sometimes draconian measures taken by China.
A third round of mass testing has been ordered for Xi’an, which is capable of swapping 10 million people in just seven hours and processing up to 3 million results in just 12 hours, according to state media.
While Wuhan’s health system was overwhelmed after the pandemic began there in late 2019, China has not reported a shortage of beds or medical equipment and staff in Xi’an. Two dozen special teams have been formed to handle COVID-19 cases, and a few hospitals have been set aside to provide other forms of care, Xinhua reported.
China has vaccinated nearly 85% of its population, according to Our World in Data. The shots have helped reduce the severity of the disease, although Chinese vaccines are considered less effective than used elsewhere.
As a sign of the pressure the authorities are under to curb this outbreak, officials have been made aware that they will lose their jobs if they do not get the number of new cases down. Already, the top two Communist Party officials in the Yanta district, where half of the city’s cases have been registered, have been fired, according to a statement from the government of the surrounding Shaanxi province.
The head of a tourism company, which was called up by, said on Tuesday that supplies were largely adequate, but that his business had suffered since July.
“Now with the shutdown, the effect has been extremely great,” said the man who just gave his last name, Wen, as is common among Chinese.
Qin Huilin, who works at a traditional mutton soup restaurant, said the closure brought businesses to a screeching halt.
“We used to have about a hundred customers every day, but we haven’t had any for more than a dozen days since the shutdown,” Qin said by phone. “The impact on our business is significant, but I can shop once every day in supermarkets and there are enough supplies there.”
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