UPDATED at 2:46 P.M. ET on 2020-03-09
Local officials in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) said Wednesday that one member of a Uyghur family of four had contracted the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), in what would be the first confirmed case of the virus among the region’s Uyghur ethnic minority.
The officials said the four family members reside in Dongmazar township, in Ili Kazakh (in Chinese, Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture's Ghulja (Yining) county, which has been entirely sealed off.
Pehridin Helil, a 78-year-old pensioner, was identified by a local official as a positive case.
“A ruling party cadre was visiting homes in our neighborhood and asked if we had visited Mazar and Dongmazar townships. During our conversation he informed us in an unofficial manner that a Uyghur couple there had contracted the virus,” a resident of Rozimetyuzi told RFA,
A family from Dongmazar told RFA that cadres made similar visits to their area.
“Over the past four or five days, [they] have been coming to every house to ask if we have visited Dongmazar, and to inform them if there were any who had been there recently,” said one of the family members.
“They told us that some cases of the virus were detected there, but they didn’t tell us who and how many were infected. One of my sons is an official in a neighborhood committee and he told me that he heard the infected person was a man in his 70s,” the source added.
A resident of Mazar township told RFA that because he conducts trade in Dongmazar, he was forced to remain at home.
“Right now I am locked in my house for a couple of days,” he said.
“The infected person is named Pehridin Helil, a retired teacher. He lives in the Sheyih village area of our town,” said the Mazar resident.
He said that Pehridin had been to a funeral gathering, and officials were investigating those who attended.
“My father, his name is Musa, was also among them and he and others were taken to Ghulja county to be isolated. When I talked to my father over the phone I heard that Pehridin Helil was taken to the city,” the Mazar resident said.
“The cadres don’t speak transparently about this. They hide this kind of information or they reveal it on some occasions. Sometimes they will say they found one, or four, in our village as well,” he added.
A resident of Sheyih village told RFA that cadres had asked if any in the family had been in physical contact with any of the four members of Pehridin’s family and named the four members.
“Perhridin has two sons and some grandchildren. We have heard that the four of them were taken to the city for treatment, while the other family members were isolated,” said the Sheyih resident.
Sheyih village’s party secretary, Abdurrahman, confirmed one of the four suspected cases in response to questions from RFA.
“I can tell you that Pehridin is infected and getting treatment in Ghulja city but I cannot tell you whether the other three are positive or suspected cases. If you would like to inquire further about this, please call the Crisis Management Command Center,” he said.
RFA attempted to contact the prefectural and county-level party and government offices for comment, but were unable to reach them.
The Crisis Management Command Center repeated its earlier claim that all virus-related information was a state secret, first made in an RFA report published earlier this month.
While it is possible that other Uyghurs may be infected with the virus and that these four confirmed cases may not be the first, Chinese state media does not include the ethnicity of confirmed cases in reports.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 76 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Xinjiang, with 20 recoveries and one death.
It was not immediately clear if Pehridin Helil or any of his family were counted among these numbers.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Memetjan Juma. Written in English by Eugene Whong.