Xi’an: Huge losses due to China’s anti-Covid blockade measures

January 6, 2022

image source, Getty Images

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People in Xi’an cannot leave their homes for a single step, except to get tested for Covid

With residents calling for help when locked in their homes and denied admission by hospitals, the stories that have surfaced in the Chinese city of Xi’an in recent days seem all too familiar.

All 13 million residents have been locked down in the past two weeks and draconian measures have been put in place to combat the resurgence of the epidemic, with more than 1800 cases detected so far.

The local government is determined to eliminate the epidemic so as not to affect the prestige of next month’s Winter Olympics, and to avoid the coming Lunar New Year – when millions of Chinese will travel across the country – become a super-contagious event.

But it also shows that enforcing a rigid blockade with widespread testing can entail huge and harsh human costs.

Since stricter regulations went into effect to prevent people from leaving their homes to buy food, many residents have expressed concern that their supplies are nearly exhausted, some even having to change their food supply. food phone.

Government employees have gone to distribute relief goods, but the distribution is patchy, there have been reports of a shortage of drivers and delivery staff due to strict quarantine.

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Volunteers and staff distribute bags of vegetables

Some residents were forced out of their homes in the middle of the night and taken to isolation facilities, while there were worrying claims about people not being able to get the medical care they needed.

A man with a heart condition is believed to have died and a woman eight months pregnant has lost her unborn baby, after they were initially denied treatment by a hospital due to strict Covid regulations.

The government banned local hospitals from rejecting patients, and suspended the director of the hospital.

Many people reading these stories online were appalled and in disbelief. To some, it’s just a bad case scenario, like the ordeal the people of Wuhan endured in the early stages of the pandemic.

Reality is complicated

Two years on, after severe lockdowns across China, some are questioning how such mismanagement and lack of planning can still happen – and whether the authorities will pull out of the country. any lesson?

“There has never been any serious discussion of what lessons we have learned from Wuhan, nor has there been any debate. The narratives are only about the success of the model versus the underperformance. seen in Western democracies,” Professor Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the BBC.

The only thing the authorities have learned is that dealing with the outbreak with a ‘no Covid’ strategy is no longer sharp, he added.

China’s top-down policymaking means that when local officials are assigned big goals, “they often have no alternative but have to rely on a strong-arm, one-way approach.” common sense to get things done”, as seen in the extreme measures in Xi’an.

This has resulted in “overreacting or overreacting… in dealing with even a small number of cases”.

The situation in Xi’an also shows that, despite the overwhelming image of power and efficiency that the Communist Party enjoys, reality can sometimes be far more disorganized.

The Chinese government is decentralized at the local level, and a few local officials have “set ambitious goals of being Covid-free, but receiving very few resources from the central government” and not having much power. actions to deal with an outbreak when it occurs, pointed out Professor Donald Low, an expert on China governance at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The shortage of delivery people and drivers happened in Xi'an

image source, Reuters

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The shortage of delivery people and drivers happened in Xi’an

This means that “on the one hand, local officials cannot block off a district alone, but on the other hand, they are urgently required to organize food deliveries for more than a million people,” says Professor Christian Goebel, who specializes in food delivery. on Chinese Studies by the University of Vienna said in an online analysis.

“If it works, the central government will award rewards, if not, local officials will be blamed and punished.”

Two senior party officials in the city of Xi’an were fired, while dozens of other party members were punished.

Which way out?

But the bigger problem is the diminishing returns of the no-Covid policy.

Experts warn that as Covid evolves and emerges with more contagious variants, it could lead to increasingly harsh measures to maintain the same level of repression.

While the no-Covid policy still enjoys widespread support, people’s patience will only grow less and less.

In Xi’an, for example, there has been some backlash against state media propaganda efforts, such as hashtags on social media, to boost morale.

The hashtag “#TouchMomentsofXi’anFightingCovid my ass,” by one reviewer on Weibo, before it was quickly censored.

So far, China shows no sign of easing its no-Covid policy and seems content to wait for the global pandemic to end, but with new variants like Omicron emerging, many believe this will. does not happen soon.

So can China find a quick exit from what could be an ultimately unsustainable policy?

Prof Huang believes there is a way out between two very politically sensitive events – the Olympics next month and the 20th Communist Party Congress later in the year – where China can take steps towards to live with Covid.

One way this could be done is to find more effective Covid vaccines and therapies, and at the same time educate the Chinese public to be less afraid of the virus.

Another way would be to select a few cities to experiment with a more relaxed approach – but even this would be politically difficult, Prof Low warned.

“Which city will they choose? And telling people that the virus is the enemy, this seems like a betrayal,” he said, adding that many were still worried about the country’s weak health system. China outside the major cities and the effectiveness of domestic vaccines.

Meanwhile, Chinese citizens will continue to bear the brunt of these measures.

In a cryptic editorial posted on the Wechat platform – which has since been deleted – journalist Jiang Xue from the city of Xi’an detailed the difficulties residents are facing during the blockade and bridges. ask for a change.

“After all this is over, if we don’t reflect, don’t absorb the lessons from blood and tears, and rush to award and praise achievements – then the people’s suffering has been immeasurable. useful”.

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