Two years after COVID-19 hit Wuhan, residents of Xi'an chafe under lockdown

Xi'an residents say that while the authorities claim the lockdown is over, they are still under tight restrictions.
By Rita Cheng
2022.01.24
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Two years after COVID-19 hit Wuhan, residents of Xi'an chafe under lockdown A staff worker sprays disinfectant in a residential area amid a COVID-19 lockdown in Xi'an in China's northern Shaanxi province, Jan. 23, 2022.
AFP

Two years after authorities in the central Chinese city of Wuhan placed the city's 10 million residents under lockdown at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the northern city of Xi'an was also placed under tight restrictions, cutting off access to basic foodstuffs and medical treatment for some stranded in their homes.

But Xi'an residents told RFA there was little to celebrate under the gradual easing of restrictions that is currently under way, as the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) pursues a "zero-COVID" policy ahead of the 2022 Winter Games that opens on Feb. 4.

"They say the lockdown has been lifted, but I'm not happy," a resident of Xi'an surnamed Chen told RFA. "There's nothing to be happy about."

"All that's happened is that I'm now allowed to go out once every couple of days to buy my own supplies, and the prices have come down a little bit," Chen said. "But if we can't leave the residential compound, then we're stuck buying overpriced groceries from stalls at the compound gate, and that's not acceptable."

Since Jan. 20, residents have been allowed out every other day to buy supplies, but may only stay out for up to two hours, she said.

And there is still the risk that a person's "health code" app could turn red while they are making that trip, barring them from getting back to their own home, she said.

"Nobody wants to risk getting a red code [indicating close contact with a known case of COVID-19]," Chen said.

"Officials in China aren't here to work for ordinary people at all; just themselves and their superiors," she said. "Nobody cares about the people at the bottom [of the social hierarchy]."

In Wuhan, people who lost relatives during the first wave of the pandemic said they are still trying to find out exactly how government policies at the time contributed to their loved ones' deaths.

COVID-19 campaigner Zhang Hai, who lost his father in the first wave, is under close surveillance by the municipal authorities, two years later.

But he said he hasn't given up.

"The truth remains covered up, even now," Zhang told RFA. "Where did the virus come from, and how many deaths were there in Wuhan?"

"Officials in China have taken the Wuhan lockdown as a template for everywhere else, including the blocking of information," he said. "My father would have contracted that virus inside of a hospital, which means that this was a man-made disaster."

Lockdowns in Tianjin

In Tianjin, where authorities have imposed a number of smaller lockdowns in certain neighborhoods in a bid to contain a nationwide outbreak of the highly transmissible omicron variant, people are once again finding it hard to get enough food, especially migrant workers who don't have the right ID.

"It's hard to get meals delivered in Tianjin if you have a rural household registration [hukou]," one man said in a video clip that went viral on Chinese social media in recent days.

Nobody talks about "lockdowns" in Tianjin, where the authorities have already carried out a fourth round of mass COVID-19 tests of the city's 15 million population in a bid to get to zero cases as soon as possible.

Xia Ming, political science professor at New York's City University, said part of the problem is the lack of checks and balances on official power under the CCP.

"All of China's dynasties have a shared characteristic, namely, centralization and control, and this has been even more the case under the CCP," Xia told RFA.

"A government that cannot be held accountable will appear arbitrary and arrogant in the way it wields power," Xia said. "As long as the regime stays in power, what do they care if people die?"

"The system wastes life; we have seen this in the famines of the past, too," he said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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