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Locked down in China’s Xi’an amid coronavirus outbreak, residents subsist on deliveries of vegetables

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 12/30/2021 Eva Dou
A worker prepares food supplies to be delivered to residents of a compound under lockdown in Xi'an, China, on Wednesday. © Stringer/Via Reuters A worker prepares food supplies to be delivered to residents of a compound under lockdown in Xi'an, China, on Wednesday.

In the central Chinese city of Xi’an, 13 million people are dealing with one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns.

Residents have been ordered to stay in their homes since Monday, with city officials rushing truckloads of vegetables from one apartment complex to the next to try to keep people supplied with food.

The severe containment measures — reminiscent of the initial lockdown in Wuhan in early 2020 — underline China’s determination to stick to a “zero covid” policy designed to stamp out infections, even as the country’s vaccination rate exceeds 85 percent.

The approach comes at a cost, however, especially given the specter of more-transmissible variants. All nonessential production has been suspended in Xi’an, according to state media, and U.S. chipmaker Micron and Korean electronics giant Samsung have warned of disruptions as their facilities in the area have been affected.

One person caught the coronavirus. China locked down 200,000 of their neighbors.

The number of coronavirus infections in Xi’an — an ancient Silk Road city known for the terra cotta warriors — may seem minuscule compared with other countries: Xi’an reported 155 new cases on Wednesday, bringing its total to over 1,100. New York City, which has fewer residents than Xi’an, tallied a record 39,591 new cases the same day.

But everything is relative. Xi’an was the source of all but one case of domestic coronavirus transmission across China on Wednesday, according to the National Health Commission, and the city’s case count has returned to its highest levels in two years.

That puts enormous pressure on the city’s officials to bring the outbreak to heel. China will host the Winter Olympics in February, and top leaders have been anxious to put their best foot forward for the event.

A worker delivers food supplies to residents at a compound under lockdown in Xi'an, China's Shaanxi province. © Stringer/Via Reuters A worker delivers food supplies to residents at a compound under lockdown in Xi'an, China's Shaanxi province.

Chinese authorities have not said whether any of the cases in Xi’an were caused by the omicron variant.

At a news conference on Wednesday, a health commission official criticized Xi’an for cases of transmission to other provinces and said the city needed to strengthen its pandemic controls.

When the lockdown began last week in Xi’an, each family was allowed to send one person out every two days to procure food and supplies, but this was tightened on Monday to prohibit any trips out, except for coronavirus testing.


Video: Coronavirus Cases Surge Across the Globe (Bloomberg)

Local authorities announced Thursday that a 24-year-old man was jailed for 10 days after Xi’an police caught him driving in an industrial zone in violation of lockdown. Two other Xi’an residents were arrested for forging permits that could allow the holders to move around the city.

As omicron variant spreads, China senses vindication over ‘zero covid’ strategy

Earlier in the week, local police reported that a man had tried to escape Xi’an’s lockdown by cycling all night to an outlying town. He was taken to centralized quarantine and fined around $31, police said.

In other parts of China, too, enforcement of pandemic controls has grown stringent. This week, videos emerged of authorities in hazmat suits in southern Guangxi province parading four detainees wearing placards of their faces on their chests. According to state media, those detainees were caught smuggling across the border with Vietnam, at a time when the frontier was closed for pandemic control.

Even amid China’s “zero covid” push, the Guangxi detainee parade was too much for many. It drew a rare rebuke from the state-run Beijing News, which said that form of public shaming had been banned since the 1980s.

In Xi’an, the abrupt lockdown meant many residents were caught without sufficient food supplies. People complained online of price gouging by delivery services. The hashtag “It’s hard to buy groceries in Xi’an” had accumulated 300 million views on the Chinese social media platform Weibo as of Thursday.

Prominent Chinese commentator Hu Xijin, former editor in chief of the hawkish state-run Global Times, said on Weibo on Monday that the public should be supportive of Xi’an instead of critical, and that the local government is “doing their best.”

“Some people in Xi’an may encounter specific problems and difficulties,” he wrote. “I believe the government will be very concerned and anxious about them. At this time, the outside world should be careful not to amplify disputes through the Internet.”

As omicron arrives in China, covid restrictions leave millions facing holidays without family

Xi’an authorities responded by announcing a citywide campaign to deliver groceries to residents stuck in their homes. The city’s official newspapers were plastered on Thursday morning with photos of truckloads of vegetables — cabbage, leeks, broccoli — being delivered to housing complexes.

“Enough that you don’t have to leave your home,” a headline in the state-run Xi’an Evening News declared.

But the comments section under an online post about the food delivery by the newspaper included a number of remarks from people saying they had not yet received a delivery.

Pandemic travel restrictions are likely to remain in place across China through at least February, meaning that for a third year, many Chinese will not be able to travel home to celebrate Lunar New Year, the most anticipated holiday in the country. The holiday runs from Jan. 31 through Feb. 6.

Local authorities have been encouraging people to “celebrate in place.” Those trying to travel out of provinces deemed high-risk for coronavirus infection have to complete two or more weeks of quarantine before they can travel domestically.

Pei Lin Wu and Alicia Chen in Taipei contributed to this report.

Read more:

One person caught the coronavirus. China locked down 200,000 of their neighbors.

As omicron variant spreads, China senses vindication over ‘zero covid’ strategy

As omicron arrives in China, covid restrictions leave millions facing holidays without family

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