Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 5 January 2022

 Xi swings the axe in locked-down city

A resident undergoes a nucleic acid test for Covid-19 in Xi’an in China's northern Shaanxi province on Tuesday. Picture: AFP

A resident undergoes a nucleic acid test for Covid-19 in Xi’an in China's northern Shaanxi province on Tuesday. Picture: AFP

The ferocity of China’s “People’s War” on Covid has risen to levels not seen since the catastrophe in Wuhan as officials battle to contain a coronavirus outbreak less than a month before the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Only three months after Beijing lauded the former capital Xi’an as a gold-standard practitioner of China’s “Covid zero” strategy, Chinese Communist Party officials in the city are being sacked by the dozen for failing to stop an outbreak that is tiny by international standards.

More than 13 million people in Xi’an, home of the terracotta warriors in China’s northwest, are now a fortnight into a lockdown that is strict even by Chinese standards.

It has precipitated a rare outbreak of complaints about China’s “Covid zero” policy that President Xi Jinping has said demonstrates the superiority of the country’s system of government.

Investigative journalist Jiang Xue, who is in Xi’an, has been publishing a widely circulated diary on the lockdown.

She questioned the requests by government officials for residents to be “willing to make any sacrifice”, a criticism expressed online by many Xi’an residents.

“This line is true enough, but each average person needs to think, are we the ‘we’ here, or are we the ‘sacrifice?’” she wrote.

Officials in Xi’an reported just under 100 cases on Tuesday in a city with a population about the size of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane combined.

The 1.2 million residents of the town of Yuzhou – east of Xi’an — were also put into a strict lockdown on Monday, after officials declared they had found three ­asymptomatic cases in the Adelaide-sized city.

Much of the port city of Ningbo, which has a population of nine million, has also been put into what state media has called a “hardcore quarantine” to stamp out another small outbreak in the world’s most populous country.

Eliminating the cluster of the current Delta variant has challenged China’s established method of repeated citywide testing and targeted quarantine restrictions.

Stay-at-home restrictions in Xi’an that allow citizens to leave their homes only to receive mandated Covid tests were imposed on December 22.

Days later, more than two dozen Communist Party officials were sacked for “insufficient rigour in preventing and controlling the outbreak” amid widespread complaints by the city’s residents.

A party official in charge of a faltering IT system that is supposed to record citizens’ Covid tests was sacked on Wednesday, following the dismissal of two of the city’s most senior cadres earlier this week.

Many residents in Xi’an have expressed anger about food shortages, as they have become entirely dependent on packages delivered by local officials.

A video went viral on social media showing a man being attacked by police after leaving his apartment to buy steamed buns.

There have also been reports of people with illnesses other than Covid being unable to get medical treatment.

A man reportedly died after being unable to receive care after a heart attack and a pregnant woman was unable to get to a hospital for delivery.

In an effort to more quickly meet Beijing’s zero-case benchmark, local authorities have set up more than 300 quarantine centres just beyond the city’s borders.

“My biggest fear is not lack of food but being dragged to some unknown quarantine centres because one neighbour in the same building tested positive,” one resident posted on a Chinese social media site.

Many Chinese social media users have shared patriotic messages and clips, praising the city’s health volunteers.

In one widely spread video clip, a volunteer health worker dressed in full PPE equipment plays “My people, my country” as residents cheer from nearby buildings.

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