After just three asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 were detected, Chinese authorities have placed the city of Yuzhou, home to roughly 1.1 million people, into a citywide lockdown.
Residents woke up on Jan. 4 to see all supermarkets, shopping malls, museums and transportation systems shut down overnight and some saw their homes sealed shut from the outside. All residents were told to remain indoors and are strictly prohibited from leaving their homes except for emergency situations.
The strict measures come just weeks ahead of the upcoming Lunar New Year and the Winter Olympics, slated to begin in Beijing on Feb. 4.
With exactly a month to go until the scheduled start of the Games, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said during a daily press briefing that China had “formulated an efficient and highly effective defense system against the virus,” and reassured reporters that the Olympics will be conducted in the safest manner for all parties involved.
As part of this system, thousands of staff and volunteers have begun quarantining on Jan. 4, and will have no physical contact with the outside world in order to limit potential exposure and spread of the virus.
Since Yuzhou is located approximately 434 miles southwest of Beijing, officials have urged residents there that “curbing and quashing the epidemic within the shortest amount of time is a high-priority political task for both citizens and government employees.”
Xi’an going on third week of draconian lockdown
Yuzhou’s lockdown follows a similar situation to Xi’an, where 13 million residents have been confined to their homes since Dec. 23. Around 150 medical staff from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) air force were also dispatched on Dec. 27 to control what the government claims are scores of COVID-19 infections in the northwestern Chinese city.
Locals in Xi’an 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, the capital of Shaanxi Province.
The situation in Xi’an has rapidly worsened over the past few weeks, with many residents claiming food sources are running in dangerously low supply.
“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 China’s tightly censored Internet said on Twitter.
“Police patrols outside residential areas do not allow people to leave their buildings.” Another user said, posting a video where several people are seen being pushed into a police vehicle.
Trading iPhones for rice
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.
“People are swapping stuff with others in the same building, because they no longer have enough food to eat,” a resident surnamed Wang told Radio Free Asia.
Another resident told the news outlet in a video clip that some people were trading cigarettes and iPhones for bags of rice. “We now have a barter system in our residential compound,” the unidentified man says in the clip. “We had a bag of rice, and the neighbor wanted to trade us a smartphone and a tablet for it.”
“We have six bags of rice in our home but no vegetables,” the man said.
Videos and photos posted on Chinese social media site Weibo also showed people exchanging cigarettes for cabbage, dishwashing liquid for apples, and sanitary pads for a small amount of vegetables.
One video showed a resident appearing to trade his Nintendo Switch console for a packet of instant noodles and two steamed buns.
Residents suspicious over government’s stringent measures
Many people in China and abroad have shown considerable doubt as to the veracity of the government’s confirmed COVID cases as well as the effectiveness of Beijing’s heavy-handed lockdown policies.
The government has claimed that its policies and Chinese vaccines have brought the virus under control, but the frequent outbreaks and strict measures brought to bear against low reported numbers of infections have brought considerable strain to the national economy, social life, and mental health of residents across China.
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 residents have been placed under some form of lockdown.