Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Xi’an have banned “negative news” on social media as many residents took to social media to complain about a citywide lockdown that has left many stranded at home without enough food or access to medical treatment.
“From Jan. 4, people are banned from posting details of the pandemic restrictions or information about the road situation, videos, links, mini-apps or photos of the situation, particularly negative news,” the municipal government said in a mass SMS announcement to the city’s 13 million residents.
“There is background surveillance operating on all WeChat groups, and any negative news will be deleted as soon as it is sent,” the message said. “Please bear this in mind and pass the message on.”
The order came amid a wave of public dissatisfaction and online complaints as local people have been prevented from leaving their homes to buy groceries and basic necessities, or turned away from hospitals for medical treatment because they come from a high or medium-risk area.
The local government has responded with a high-profile propaganda campaign detailing efforts to organize the shipment of fresh food to beleaguered residents, who say they are being prevented from going out to buy groceries and basic necessities by security guards in their residential buildings.
One video clip sent to RFA showed quarantine officers delivering food and drink to residents, before requiring them to thank the government on camera.
“You should thank the government,” the officer is seen saying. “Thank you, government, for your care, thank you,” replies the resident, having just received a white radish, three potatoes, six carrots and two onions.
Xi’an resident Feng Xiaowei said the authorities don’t want to see any more online complaints about their performance.
“They want to put us on mute, so that we can’t talk about anything negative regarding the pandemic restrictions,” Feng said.
“That story of the guy whose father died after being denied admission to a hospital has to be hushed up,” he said in a reference to social media posts made by a user nicknamed “Sun Huahuahua”, whose father had a heart attack but was turned away by several Xi’an hospitals.
‘Not fit for humans to live’
A resident surnamed Ma said the government could silence people, but it couldn’t fool them.
“It’s pretty clear now what the government is doing,” Ma said. “Now, if people are hungry, they’re not allowed to say so.”
“This isn’t a place fit for humans to live, where they won’t even let sick people seek medical treatment, or give birth — that’s how they treat people in a pandemic,” she said.
The Xi’an authorities have admitted to shortcomings in the way they have handled the current lockdown, announcing the sacking of the Yanta district ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) secretary and administrative district head at a recent news conference.
The ban on “negative news” came as the city reported more than 1,600 cases of COVID-19, but no deaths, and after several reports of people being turned away when seeking urgent medical care, because they lacked a recent enough negative test result.
They included a pregnant woman who felt pains in her stomach on New Year’s Day but was not allowed into a hospital, and was left waiting outside in a pool of blood, later losing the baby.
Phoenix News reported that the authorities are now investigating the case.
Lockdowns are also in place in Henan province’s Yuzhou city and in the central city of Zhengzhou, with curbs on travel in and out of Beijing ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics on Feb. 4.
People are being told to travel in and out of Beijing only if they absolutely need to and hotels have largely stopped taking new reservations, the Associated Press reported.
Athletes, officials and journalists are entering an “anti-pandemic” bubble as soon as they arrive and will remain within it until the Feb. 4-20 Winter Games are over, the agency said.
No fans are being allowed to travel to China to support the Games, and spectators are likely to be hand-picked by the government from schools, workplaces and the military, it said.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.