THE MANAGEMENT OF the lockdown of Xi’an to control the outbreak of Covid-19 has not gone smoothly, highlighting the challenge each new resurgence of the virus poses to China’s zero-tolerance policy towards Covid-19.
The lockdown imposed on December 23 suggests that authorities have no intention to give up on their zero-tolerance approach. However, Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan said late last week that local authorities need to adopt more ‘targeted and forceful’ measures and improve quarantine controls to deal with the outbreak in the city of 13 million people.
For example, multiple reports talk of infections being transmitted by residents mingling while waiting to be tested for Covid.
The Party secretary of Yanta district in the southern part of the city and one of the areas worst-hit by the outbreak has been fired along with another official — far from the first local bureaucrats to take the fall for mishandling Covid flare-ups.
This came as reports emerged of midnight evictions in the district’s Mingde 8 Yingli housing compound on January 1 when residents were instructed to leave their homes and go to quarantine facilities with some waiting for hours outside in the winter cold for the buses taking them there.
To restrict the outbreak regarded as the most severe since the virus was first observed in Wuhan two years ago, residents were already required to remain indoors. Shops are closed. Entry to the city is heavily restricted and driving within it is banned, as the empty roads in the picture of the city above, taken on January 1, testifies.
A few dozen cases in early December increased to more than 150 a day. However, the latest data reported by state media suggest the numbers of new locally transmitted infections have peaked with new infections around the 100 mark on both days of the weekend.
A total of nearly 1,600 cases were confirmed in the city as of January 1. The number is tiny by international comparisons, but the highest in China since March 2020.
The outbreak, which is of the Delta, not the Omicron variant, was traced to a flight from Pakistan but initially evaded detection by contract tracers for some days. As well as instituting a lockdown, authorities say they have conducted six rounds of city-wide testing.
Reports speak of citizens being punished for evading lockdown restrictions by fleeing the city and shortages of food. There have also been complaints about the lack of access to medical services and the availability of heating in the midst of winter in the northwest of the country.
It is thought this was due to recent reported infections in the community. Multiple Chinese outlets reported that locals had mixed while getting tested for Covid.
Authorities say that supplies of groceries and household essentials for residents have improved and that free food deliveries have been made to residents since December 28.
However, the build-up of public frustration in Xi’an directed towards the local government that has ensued — and its expression on social media despite attempts to censor it — points to the increasing difficulty authorities may face in continuing with severe lockdowns to snuff out resurgences of the virus.