In Locked Down Chinese City, Some Complain Food Hard to Get

BEIJING (AP) -
Community volunteers visit residents to find out their needs at a residential block in Xi’an city, Monday. (Chinatopix Via AP)

Residents of the Chinese city of Xi’an are straining under a strict coronavirus lockdown, with some complaining of difficulties finding food, despite assurances from authorities that they are able to provide necessities for the 13 million people largely confined to their homes.

Stringent measures to stem outbreaks are common in China, which still maintains a policy of stamping out every COVID-19 case long after many other countries have opted to try to live with the virus. But the lockdown imposed Dec. 23 in Xi’an is one of the harshest in the country since a shutdown in 2020 in and around Wuhan, after the coronavirus was first detected there.

The Chinese have largely complied with the tough measures throughout the pandemic, but complaints have cropped up over tough policies, despite the risk of retaliation from Communist authorities.

“Can’t leave the building, and it’s getting more and more difficult to buy food online,” said one resident of Xi’an, who posted on a social media platform under the name Mu Qingyuani Sayno. The post was from a verified account, but the person did not respond to a request for further comment.

The lockdown in Xi’an originally allowed people to leave the house every two days to shop for basic goods, but it has since been tightened, though the rules vary according to the severity of the outbreak in each district. Some people are not allowed to go out at all and must have goods delivered to them. People can only leave the city with special permission.

In recent days, people in Xi’an could be seen shopping at pop-up markets, served by workers in head-to-toe white protective suits. Community volunteers also visited people’s homes to ask what they needed.

Yet the strain is beginning to show, with residents increasingly complaining on Weibo of being unable to source necessities. In one widely shared video, guards could be seen attacking a man who had tried to deliver steamed buns to family members. The guards later apologized to the man and were each fined 200 yuan ($31), according to a Xi’an police statement posted on Weibo.

China’s “zero tolerance” strategy of quarantining every case, mass testing and trying to block new infections from abroad helped it to contain previous outbreaks. But the lockdowns are far more stringent than anything seen in the West, and they have exacted a tremendous toll on the economy and the lives of millions of people.

Xi’an, home to the famed Terracotta Army statues along with major industries, has seen more than 1,600 cases in a surge that officials say is driven by the delta variant, which is less infectious than the newer omicron strain, of which China has reported only a handful of cases. Another 95 infections were announced Tuesday.

China has reported a total of 102,841 cases and 4,636 deaths since the pandemic began.

While those numbers are relatively small compared to the U.S. and other countries, and likely undercounts as they are everywhere, they do show the persistence of the virus despite the sometimes draconian measures taken by China.

A third round of mass testing has been ordered for Xi’an, which is capable of swabbing 10 million people in just seven hours and processing up to 3 million results in just 12 hours, according to state media.

In a sign of the pressure authorities are under to curb this outbreak, officials have been put on notice that they will lose their jobs if they don’t bring the numbers of new cases down.

Already, the top two Communist Party officials in Yanta district, where half the city’s cases have been recorded, have been fired, according to a statement from the government of the surrounding province of Shaanxi.