Officials distribute unidentified drugs amid COVID outbreak in Xinjiang

They are also checking cell phones to ensure that residents do not talk about an ongoing lockdown.
By Shohret Hoshur
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Police officers (L and R) visit a couple who live in a remote area of Altay in northwestern China's Xinjiang region to promote awareness of the COVID-19 virus, Feb. 19, 2020.

Local Chinese officials, including security personnel, are giving unidentified drugs to Uyghurs in a county near Ghulja city in the northwestern Xinjiang region that has been locked down due to an increase in coronavirus infections, county officials and residents said.

Chinese government health officials issued a statement last week about the new COVID-19 infections in Qorghas (in Chinese, Huocheng) county in Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture. They said the lockdown had been implemented as a measure to curb the spread of the acute respiratory illness. The county sits between Ghulja (Yining) and the border to Kazakhstan.

Authorities have also sought to limit the release of information about the lockdown beyond the immediate area, they said.

The Chinese government limited traffic between towns and cities after people in the county’s Suzuksu township were found to have the virus on Jan. 22, a neighborhood security director from a village in Ghulja told RFA.

As part of the lockdown, village and neighborhood officials and security personnel, rather than health officials, distributed a combination of a Western drug and Chinese medicinal herbs to residents, he said, though he did not know the names of the medicines, what they contained, or what they were meant for.

“They didn’t tell us the exact number of infected people, the neighborhood,” a security director said when asked about the number of COVID-19 virus infections. “They just said it was reported.”

“It is now required [for residents] to stay in place and not travel to or from any village, township, county or city during this lockdown. We stopped travelling from the village to the county, and now and we are just staying in place.”

The village official said that he and others had been distributing drugs to residents for a week.

“It’s a white-colored drug,” he said. “Before this we used to distribute a liquid drug.”

When asked if authorities had taken measures to prevent the spread of news about the lockdown, the village official said: “We are checking their cell phones. There has not been any incident so far in our village.”

Locals have reported on social media that the government has spent extravagant amounts on the drugs but has been unwilling to help provide coal for residential heating during the winter.

During a previous virus lockdown in 2020, residents also said they were given unidentified drugs, but did not ask for information about them out of fear that they would be punished.

When COVID-19 first sprang up in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, Uyghur and Kazakh residents in Xinjiang were increasingly being confined to “re-education” camps. They have been since subjected to lockdowns during local coronavirus outbreaks.

At that time, residents said that authorities were “testing” unknown drugs on them, while others responded that during the pandemic, some Chinese companies had collaborated with Chinese authorities to sell large quantities of unsold drugs to make money.

A health official in Hotan (Hetian) at the time said that Chinese herbal medicine made in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province in northeastern China, was being sold in and around the oasis town in southwestern Xinjiang.

“When we were given these drugs, we were told that they would improve our immunity,” he said of the drug manufactured by Shijiangzhuang Yilin Pharmaceutical Company.

Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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