Residents of the northern Chinese city of Xi’an who were taken from their homes by the busload in a middle-of-the-night relocation operation have hit out at the conditions they were expected to stay in, as part of a compulsory “isolation” program aimed at eradicating COVID-19 in the city.
“The isolation facility was too disgusting, so we’re walking home again,” one resident says in a video clip posted to Tik Tok on Jan. 3. The clip showed dozens of people dressed in winter clothes and wheeling luggage along an urban boulevard by night.
“Resistance is the only option,” one Twitter user commented on the footage.
Another video clip posted to Twitter showed a run-down dormitory building with four military-style bunk beds in austere conditions in a building staffed by workers clad in full PPE.
In a video clip that went viral on social media, a woman berates a PPE-clad staff member at an isolation facility for the authorities’ failure to pick up the phone or to provide sanitary supplies for women, following the middle-of-the-night relocation.
Video shot from a tall building by a Xi’an resident showed columns of dark green buses filing along a city street, past roadblocks manned by dozens of workers in full PPE.
The mass forced relocation of citizens came as Shaanxi provincial ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) secretary Liu Guozhong announced an “all-out assault” in a bid to eradicate COVID-19 cases in Xi’an, where the outbreak continues despite mass citywide testing and harsh lockdown restrictions that have last nearly two weeks.
“Not a single individual or household can be missed … Screening must be completed in a timely manner, and in sufficient quantity,” Liu said.
“It is necessary to make sufficient preparations for relocation for isolation … and to solve the staffing and vehicle shortages to make these transfers [of people],” he said in comments reported by the official Shaanxi Daily newspaper.
“This so-called zero-COVID policy really means that they are trying to shift the problem outside the city, to the suburbs, where they can’t be seen,” a Xi’an resident surnamed Fang told RFA on Tuesday.
“In these relocation facilities in the suburbs, there are four bunk-beds to every room, and the students who are supposed to be delivering food are themselves so hungry they can’t stop crying,” Fang said.
“They didn’t get fed until the news got out.”
‘An utter mess of everything’
A retired Xi’an official surnamed Liu said the local authorities had totally failed in their implementation of the lockdown and isolation process.
“These so-called leaders have made an utter mess of everything,” Liu said. “Wuhan had it hard enough, but at least they came through it OK.”
“Not Xi’an, where the restrictions have been harsh to an insane degree,” she said. “There are four bunk-beds to a room in the isolation facilities, with one cover.”
“How is that isolation? These are mass dormitories, and it’ll be a miracle if they don’t lead to further infections,” Liu said. “They have no clue.”
The lockdown has already been met with a public chorus of dissatisfaction, 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.
Xi’an officials said on Jan. 3 they had shipped more than 3,400 tonnes of vegetables and foodstuffs into the city from surrounding areas, handing out packages to more than half a million people.
Eighth wave of tests
Meanwhile, city authorities said they were carrying out an eighth wave of COVID-19 PCR testing late on Jan. 3, as local residents complained that they were unable to update their health codes via the app, which is used to control who may move around.
“The city’s PCR emergency platform is currently busy and we are unable to log you in due to excessive traffic right now,” a text sent to one resident said. “We are currently carrying out emergency repairs.”
“All the staff did a PCR test today, which should mean they were cleared [on the health code app],” Wang said. “But when it got to 8.00 p.m., everyone tried to log on and it crashed.”
Among those suffering during the Xi’an lockdown was a disabled former shooting prodigy and Maoist internet commentator with the nickname Sniper, who received a barrage of abuse from social media users after he tried to raise funds via his Alipay account to pay for medicines during lockdown.
Online comments hit out at the man, who was a key abuser of writer Fang Fang, after she published her “Lockdown Diary” about her experiences in the early days of the pandemic in Wuhan.
“Just die soon, and don’t discredit your country,” one comment read, in a snarky reference to his trolling of Fang, while others published his cell phone number, which was deluged in further abusive text messages and calls.
Maoist leftist Chen Hongtao said public anger was largely driven by a recognition that what Fang Fang was writing in her diary was true.
“He didn’t understand what causes this kind of social disaster, and the personal suffering involved [until now],” Chen told RFA. “That’s why this happened to him.”
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.