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Chinese Military Deploys Troops as Xi’an Outbreak Worsens

Around 150 medical staff from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) air force have been dispatched to Xi’an, the northwestern Chinese city that has been in lockdown for more than a week due to what the government says are scores of COVID-19 infections.  According to a social media post by the state-run People’s Daily, many of the personnel who arrived in Xi’an at 8 p.m. on Dec. 27 are “veterans” of previous biosafety crises, having “arm-wrestled the Grim Reaper” during the SARS pandemic of 2003 and the original COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. 
Leo Timm covers China-related news, culture, and history. Follow him on Twitter at @kunlunpeaks
Juliet Wei covers China news and U.S.-China relations and has worked as a correspondent with Senate and House Correspondent Credential at Washington DC. She holds an M.A. in Specialized Journalism from the University of Southern California.
Published: December 29, 2021
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PLA air force medical personnel were deployed to Xi’an on Dec. 27, according to Chinese state media (Image: NTD Television)

Authorities report only a handful of COVID cases, but locals suspect the real concern is rodent-spread hemorrhagic fever

Around 150 medical staff from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) air force have been dispatched to Xi’an, the northwestern Chinese city that has been in lockdown for more than a week due to what the government says are scores of COVID-19 infections. 

According to a social media post by the state-run People’s Daily, many of the personnel who arrived in Xi’an at 8 p.m. on Dec. 27 are “veterans” of previous biosafety crises, having “arm-wrestled the Grim Reaper” during the SARS pandemic of 2003 and the original COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. 

A video posted by Chinese Twitter users shows much personnel in heavy biochemical protective clothing in the streets of Xi’an, which is an industrial center home to around 13 million and one of China’s most ancient capitals. 

Personnel in the streets of Xi’an wearing heavy biochemical protection. (Image: Screenshot/Twitter)

Locals have questioned the official explanation for the outbreak and lockdown, as cases of hemorrhagic fever have been reported in the city. Hemorrhagic fever, a viral infection transmitted by rodents, is endemic to Xi’an. 

From screen shoot of txt message to a friend from one resident named “WuXinyu’s mother”, it said, “ those who want to avoid covid-19, do not go to Chang’an District. The hemorrhagic fever in Chang’an District is particularly serious, just not been reported. Almost 200 people have been infected. My friend who is a doctor in Chang’an Hospital told me that her colleague’s husband infected hemorrhagic fever while he was running in the park. He died within a week. It’s very scary, so just stay at home and don’t go out.”

From another post “@shiwaigaoren007” on Twitter, the screenshot of the txt message of the conversation said, “My child said that there are mice in the school. Their teacher told them a lot about bacteria.” and “A sister in another Wechat message Group who is working in the hospital said”Haemorrhagic fever is real, and patients were full of the sickrooms of the department of Infectious Diseases of Chang’an Hospital.””

Xi’an residents suspected hemorrhagic fever outbreak in Chang’an County(Image: Screenshot/Twitter)

Video and photos taken in the city show thousands of residents lining up in the cold for hours to await nucleic acid testing. 

On Dec. 23, Xi’an Epidemic Prevention and Control Headquarters Office imposed lockdowns after the detection of several cases. It said “From 16:00 December 22, 2021, Xi’an’s traffic will be under strict control. The residents should not leave Xi’an without special reasons; As a general rule, outbound vehicles and people should not enter Xi’an. Specific resumption times for normal traffic situations will be announced. “

Right photo: Xi’an authorities announced lockdown (Image: Xi’an Epidemic Prevention and Control Headquarters Office)

Under China’s strict “zero-COVID” policies, those living in locked-down areas are not permitted to leave their homes without authorization, such as to buy groceries or to be tested. 

On Dec. 27, the same day as the PLA medical personnel reached Xi’an, the government further restricted movement, rescinding a previous allowance for each household to make a grocery trip every other day. Now, everyone is required to stay in their homes. 

Running out of food

Netizens have reported heavy police and medical presence in the major avenues of Xi’an in a state of quasi martial law. Those found outside without authorization were to be fined and their places of employment penalized as well. 

“No one is allowed to go outside. The supermarket outside is closed, and the necessities supplying personnel who deliver water are not allowed to go out,” one Chinese user circumventing the “Great Firewall” posted on Twitter.  

“Police patrols outside residential areas do not allow people to leave their buildings.” One video shows several people being pushed into a police vehicle. 

In a situation that has occurred multiple times in Wuhan and other cities locked down by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities, residents have reported running out of food and other essential supplies due to the extremely short notice given.

Speaking with overseas Chinese-language broadcaster NTD Television, a Xi’an local surnamed Wang described “almost all the shopping malls on the street have been closed. Only the big supermarkets are left open.”

Mr. Wang noted the very high prices of goods in the stores still open, especially for vegetables. “After the city was closed on the 23rd because everyone was unprepared, the city was suddenly locked down in the middle of the night. We have no reserves at all. Then the vegetables are three times more expensive. The prices are sky-high and [produce] is hard to come by. Everyone is panicking, we have no idea what’s going on.” 

In a video posted on Dec. 29, people living in residential buildings can be heard shouting “Who has food at home? I’m starving to death.” A Twitter post the same day reported that the city was providing food handouts to those in lockdown. 

People living in residential buildings can be heard shouting “Who has food at home? I’m starving to death.” Chinese users said“No one is allowed to go outside.” and “The supermarket outside is closed, and the necessities supplying personnel who deliver water are not allowed to go out.” (Image: Screenshot/Twitter)

Uncertainty

COVID-19, which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, has killed millions of people globally and caused tremendous economic loss. Chinese authorities claim slightly over 101,000 infections and less than 5,000 deaths nationwide and hail its “zero COVID” policies as instrumental in winning a “people’s war” against the virus

Despite this, there is considerable doubt as to the veracity of these figures as well as the effectiveness of Beijing’s heavy-handed lockdown policies. The CCP claims that its policies and Chinese vaccines have brought COVID-19 under control, but the frequent outbreaks and heavy-handed measures brought to bear against low reported numbers of infections have brought considerable strain to the national economy, social life, and psychological health. 

According to data released by the Chinese Health Commission, there were 151 new cases in Xi’an on Dec. 27, and 175 the next day. The Xi’an outbreak comes at the same time as similar outbreaks in Zhejiang and Fujian provinces of southeastern China, where more than 600,000 have been placed under some kind of lockdown, as well as the Inner Mongolia region to the north.

Despite the “zero-COVID” lockdowns, many factories have remained in operation. Xi’an is a major base for the auto, aviation, aerospace, and biotechnology industries. The local Samsung Electronics factory has declared emergency operations to ensure normal production.

Xi’an resident Mr. Zhou told NTD Television, “My wife works every day and is off on Saturdays and Sundays. She is riding in her colleague’s car, so there is nothing she can do about it. Her company issued a certificate to her, so she has to go to work. If she does not go to work, they will say she is engaging in absenteeism.”

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Xi’an Residents Fear Plague Outbreak as Locals Suffer Hemorrhagic Fever