Widening China COVID lockdowns hit Uyghurs and Tibetans hard

Many residents of Ghulja say they are no longer able to buy food or fuel.
By Shohret Hoshur, Sangyal Kunchok and Li Tian
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Widening China COVID lockdowns hit Uyghurs and Tibetans hard A medical worker taking a swab sample from a child to be tested for the Covid-19 coronavirus, in Ganzhou District, in Zhangye, in China's northwest Gansu province, Nov. 1, 2021.

Lockdowns are spreading in China amid a surge in coronavirus infections that have seen around 500 people diagnosed in at least 17 provinces, with authorities restricting travel and warning people to stockpile food and other supplies.

A lockdown in one city in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region has lasted more than a month, leaving desperate residents short of food and forced to complain to authorities in spite of official warnings to keep quiet, sources say.

“It is impossible to continue like this,” one Uyghur resident of Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) said, writing on his social media account.  “When will the roads and our doors be opened again for sure?” he asked.

“They said this would happen on Oct. 18, but the 18th then passed. Then we were happy when we heard things would open on Oct. 28, but the 28th has now also passed, and no one is saying anything more,” the man wrote.

“Cold weather is coming, and normally we would be able to go out to buy coal and other things we need,” he said, adding a plea to Chinese authorities to carefully consider their situation. “We must be allowed to go out as soon as possible. If things continue like this, we will probably die from hunger rather than the virus,” he said.

Many residents of Ghulja, which lies near China’s border with Kazakhstan, are no longer able to buy food or fuel, other Uyghurs said.

“I have run out of all the money that I’d saved,” another resident wrote. “We’ve also run out of vegetables, and I can’t send any money to my child, who is studying in another city.”

Health workers conduct Covid-19 coronavirus tests on travelers at the exit of Yantai Railway Station in China's eastern Shandong province, Nov. 2, 2021. Credit: AFP
Health workers conduct Covid-19 coronavirus tests on travelers at the exit of Yantai Railway Station in China's eastern Shandong province, Nov. 2, 2021. Credit: AFP
No sign of end

Officials called by RFA declined to comment on the situation in Ghulja, but an employee working in what she called a vocational training school said the city’s lockdown was still in force, adding that she was now cut off from contact with her husband, who worked in another town.

She couldn’t say when the city’s quarantine might end, she said.

“We’re staying in our house because the of the government’s order, so we can’t say anything for sure. My husband works in another town out in the countryside, and it has been almost a month since he’s been home,” she said.

City residents preparing for colder weather have now also been forced to buy coal in bags instead of by the cart, leaving them vulnerable to extortion and fraud, some residents said on social media.

“Coal bought by the bag doesn’t last long,” one writer said, adding that the coal they buy is often mixed with stones, which they have to pick out of their stoves.

“We have nothing to eat and nothing to burn, and we are getting really desperate,” she said. “We pass our days in the false hope that we can come out tomorrow or maybe in the afternoon. We can’t go anywhere and remain locked up at home by the command of the authorities.”

Families whose fathers and other male breadwinners have been taken by authorities to Xinjiang’s vast network of internment camps have been especially hard hit, sources said on social media.

“We have not died yet from hunger, but we’re suffering a lot,” one woman wrote.

“There are some families who have no male figure in the house, but we women are getting by on our strength. The authorities should take these things into account,” she said.

Medical personnel preparing to test visitors for the Covid-19 coronavirus at Disneyland in Shanghai after a single coronavirus case was detected at the park on the weekend, Oct. 31, 2021. Credit: AFPMovements restricted

Tibetans living in Xining, capital of northwestern China’s Qinghai province, part of Tibet’s historical region of Amdo, have also been restricted to their homes and may not move freely in the town, Tibetan sources say.

“Tibetans have been barred from visiting each other’s homes, even if they live in the same area,” one local resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“It’s unclear if these restrictions are really due to the COVID spike or if they’re only meant to further control Tibetans living in Tibet, as the Chinese government is under great pressure and scrutiny these days as the host of the coming Winter Olympics,” he said.

Chinese authorities have already arrested 14 people for spreading what they called “false information” about COVID-19 in Xining, RFA’s source said, citing reports in state media. “Public transportation has also been curtailed and tourism halted in the city,” he said.

And though many Chinese cities have now seen spikes in COVID cases, tourists still go in large numbers to Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa, staying in guesthouses and visiting shops without restrictions, said another source living in Tibet.

“We see no sign of serious attempts to curb the spread of the virus in Lhasa,” the source said.

A drone sprays disinfectant over volunteers disinfecting a school following local cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lanzhou, Gansu province, China October 27, 2021. Credit: Reuters
A drone sprays disinfectant over volunteers disinfecting a school following local cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lanzhou, Gansu province, China October 27, 2021. Credit: Reuters
Food prices climb

The National Health Commission of China announced that as of Tuesday, there were 109 new confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, including 35 in Heilongjiang, 14 in Hebei, 14 in Gansu, and nine in Beijing.

In China’s eastern provinces, authorities are now urging families to store food and other necessities in case of emergency, as food prices continue to climb amid shortages and recent flooding due to heavy rains, media sources say.

In Jiangsu, where the epidemic had not occurred recently, people in many places are facing quarantine after an outbreak, so they have begun to rush to buy daily necessities. Several videos provided by netizens showed panic buying that had left shelves empty:

“People in several cities around us are rushing to buy thing," said Zhang Jianping, a resident of the city of Yixing in Jiangsu. "The Ministry of Commerce reminds everyone to store daily necessities, especially food."

Speaking to RFA, a resident of Wuhan city surnamed Zhang said that authorities may have two “emergencies” in mind—one the present shortage of essentials caused by the pandemic, and the other any future conflict between China and the United States that could affect normal functions of society.

“For example, is anything going to happen in the South China Sea or the East China Sea?” he asked.

“Prices have climbed drastically, including the prices of meat and eggs, and the price of green vegetables has risen very high. Even radishes are being sold at three to four yuan per catty in weight,” he said.

Though over 70 percent of China’s population of 1.4 billion people has been fully vaccinated, the country still struggles to contain sporadic outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Translated by Mamatjan Juma, Tenzin Dickyi, and Li Tian. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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