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Locked-down residents of China's Xi'an 'starving' as rules tightened

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 28/12/2021 Chris Pleasance for MailOnline

Locked-down residents in one of China's biggest cities say they are at risk of starving in their homes after they were banned from going outside even to buy food under harsh new Covid measures sparked by just a few dozen cases.

Apparatchiks running the city of Xi'an on Monday told 13million people they are only allowed out of their homes when invited to take part in a new round of mass testing, or for medical emergencies.

Previously, one member of each household was allowed out once every two days to buy food. City officials said people in 'low risk' areas will be allowed out to buy essentials once testing is complete and if their results are negative.

Xi'an reported 175 new cases on Tuesday, a paltry figure compared to other large cities around the world but a major blow to China which is continuing to pursue a 'zero Covid' strategy even in the face of more-infectious variants.

Nearby cities have also logged cases linked to the flare-up, with Yan'an - about 185 miles from Xi'an - on Tuesday shuttering businesses and ordering hundreds of thousands of people in one district to stay indoors. 

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The tightened lockdown measures prompted some Xi'an residents to turn to social media for help, saying they are 'starving' and appealing to neighbours for supplies. 

'I'm about to be starved to death,' wrote one person on Weibo, China's equivalent of Facebook. 'There's no food, my housing compound won't let me out, and I'm about to run out of instant noodles ... please help!' 

'I don't want to hear any more about how everything is fine,' said another. 'So what if supplies are so abundant - they're useless if you don't actually give them to people.'  

Xi'an's outbreak is being driven by the Delta variant and is believed to be linked to travel to Pakistan a week ago.

The city has been in lockdown since last Thursday when mass testing revealed a case had escaped quarantine and then spread the virus widely.

So-far this month, Xi'an has reported 810 Covid cases - China's largest outbreak since the virus first emerged in Wuhan.

The 13million-person lockdown is also China's largest since Wuhan was locked down early in 2020, which affected 11million people. 

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On Sunday, city workers were dispatched to disinfect public spaces with residents warned not to touch anything until the chemicals had time to disperse.


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Lockdown rules were then tightened on Monday evening as a fifth round of mass testing got underway.

So far, testing has revealed cases spread out across the city and across age groups - prompting fears that detected cases are only the tip of the iceberg.

Since last week, Xian residents have not been allowed to leave the city without permission from their employer or authorities.

From Monday, no vehicles are allowed on the roads unless they are for virus control or for people's livelihoods and violators could face up to 10 days in police detention and 500 yuan ($78.48) fines.

The city told residents on Monday not to leave home unless they are giving samples in a new round of citywide testing. People in less risky areas would be allowed out to buy necessities if the testing is negative, the city government said.

Anyone who refuses to follow the rules during testing, including keeping a metre away from each other in queues, could also face detention and a fine, police said. 

Dongyan Jin, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the mass disinfection of outdoor air and surfaces seemed unnecessary given the low risk of people catching COVID-19 from outdoor surfaces or the air with so few people outside.

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'This is shooting mosquitoes with cannon,' said Jin, though he said he believed disinfection of indoor surfaces, especially in places visit by infected people, was necessary.

Infections have also been found in two other cities in Shaanxi province - the same province as Xian - and in the Guangxi region and the provinces of Zhejiang, Guangdong and Sichuan.

China is one of just a handful of nations continuing to pursue a 'zero Covid' strategy - locking down in the event of any domestic spread and staying in lockdown until cases drop to zero - even in the face of new and more-infectious variants.

The country has confirmed cases of Omicron Covid, thought to be many times more infectious than Delta, but all of them have been linked to travel and it has yet to suffer a domestic outbreak of the variant.

Observers believe the Communist Party is likely to continue with its 'zero Covid' policy despite the threat of Omicron at least until the Winter Olympics - scheduled to take place in Beijing in February - are out of the way.

The Xi'an lockdown is the most sweeping in China since the similarly-sized Wuhan was sealed off.

The city has set up over 4,400 sampling sites and deployed more than 100,000 people to handle the latest round of testing, according to state broadcaster CCTV. 

Footage showed masked residents queueing to be tested in streets and sports centres. 

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