The north-central Chinese city of Xi'an is now experiencing its worst Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) tally
in over 21 months, and the capital city of Beijing is scrambling to gain the upper hand as illnesses surge just four weeks ahead of the Winter Olympics – which they pledged to be "safe and grand."
Xi'an recently implemented severe lockdown policies, barring 13 million residents from leaving their homes. While the 1,700 caseload from Xi'an pales in comparison to many western countries, residents have long questioned the authenticity of the figures due to the regime's practice of censoring unfavorable news.
China is the largest country aiming to implement a "zero-COVID" policy
, and it is going after every virus case no matter the costs. However, its rigid playbook of fighting the virus by relying on vigorous contact tracing, mass testing, centralized quarantines and harsh lockdowns is showing strains amidst the growing frustration and anger from the public. Further, the worsening outbreak in Xi'an is mounting questions such as how long such COVID measures can last.
Getting Xi'an to zero COVID cases has become a political task, with Shaanxi Province Party Chief Liu Guozhong instructing local officials to tap into their "wartime spirit" and quarantine anyone at risk without delay.
"Xi'an is the decisive destination in the fight against the pandemic
and only when the outbreak in Xi'an has been put under control can we fundamentally reverse the passive situation in the entire province," Liu told state-sanctioned media.
Soaring food prices and sealed-off neighborhoods
A leaked document circulating on Chinese social media showed that Liu set January 4 as the date the city needs to achieve zero new cases. Racing to contain the outbreak, the city has imposed the strictest lockdown measures since Wuhan became the epicenter of the pandemic. (Related: New coronavirus outbreaks in China lead to strict lockdown measures
Overnight, thousands of those identified as "close contacts" were hauled away by truckloads to other counties and cities, where they were quarantined. For the rest, the furthest they could go is the metal door enclosing their neighborhood
or residential compound.
Some districts found themselves in tighter lockdowns, with residents not allowed to venture past their doorstep. In some areas, the elevator services were cut off without prior notice.
Firefighters had to climb the walls to get into a sealed-off neighborhood on New Year's Eve, when a building caught fire.
The Xi'an lockdown originally allowed people to leave their houses
every two days to shop for basic goods, but security has since been tightened. Some people were not allowed to go out at all, and goods should only be delivered to them.
These abrupt confinements have prompted outcries as residents struggled to secure their basic needs. During a recent live stream of a press conference, distraught viewers flooded the channel with pleas in the live comments section, where they clamored for food and other necessities. In response, the authorities disabled the comments section.
The price of food in Xi'an also skyrocketed due to the shortage of supplies. People were reportedly being forced to barter for bags of rice. In a screenshot that has since become viral, a box of Chinese cabbages – which used to be dirt cheap – now costs around 438 yuan (about $69).
China's harsh, often brutal measures to control spread of the virus
Those who break the rules for whatever reason are immediately punished, sometimes through violent actions and police brutality. A video emerged on social media showing a man beaten by two pandemic control officers for sneaking out to buy steamed buns. The officers kicked and punched the man, whose food spilled to the ground.
Another video from New Year's Day showed a bloodied man who was hit by a local village official with a brick when he tried to visit his grandmother in a nearby village.
The restrictions in Xi'an follow the same pattern repeated across China through much of the past two years. The heavy-handed approach comes hand-in-hand with an aggressive vaccination campaign that resulted in more than 85 percent of the population in China being forced to get vaccinated as of December.
With the Winter Olympics approaching, Beijing is more determined than ever to continue its harsh pandemic lockdowns. The zero-COVID strategy remains to be the best choice for the country, according to a top expert overseeing China's outbreak response. "Currently, the key to control the outbreak is not about 'adjustment' but 'implementation,'" he said. (Related: Chinese citizens decry draconian lockdown measures in China's newest coronavirus hotspots
He also stated that with the rapid transmission of the omicron variant, China needs to double down on its current measures. "I have strong confidence that our country's outbreak control system can handle mutations like omicron."
Watch the video below to learn more about the situation in China
This video is from the COVID Times channel on Brighteon.com
to learn more about how different countries are dealing with the new COVID variant.