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Social Media Black-out Imposed in Xi’an as COVID-19 Cases Mount

Published: January 7, 2022
Xi'an government has ordered to completely block all negative news about the local city closure on WeChat. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Outbreaks of COVID-19 in China continue to escalate, and the situation in Xi’an, Shaanxi province is even more serious. The city is almost paralyzed since it shut down on the 23rd of last month. Negative news continues to spread including reports of food shortages and difficulties in accessing medical care. It is now rumored that local authorities have ordered a ban on all negative news about the city lockdown on WeChat.

Negative news about the ‘COVID Zero’ campaign

As of Jan. 7, Xi’an has been closed for 16 days and the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has soared to 1,793. With the outbreak in full swing, officials are calling for a mission to achieve “zero social transmission.” 

With 100 people still being diagnosed every day, the public is wondering how Xi’an is going to achieve it. What is meant by “zero social transmission?” When all residents at risk have been moved to another place for centralized containment and no one gets sick among the remaining, is it considered “zero social transmission”?

In this regard, Chen Zhijun, deputy director of the Xi’an Disease Control Center, responded on Jan. 4, saying that the “zero social transmission” refers to the fact that all newly confirmed cases found are among the “quarantined close contacts” or “close contacts of close contacts.” The community no longer has an outbreak. 

“Only yesterday I saw the news that Xi’an intends to realize ‘zero social transmission,’ meaning that all infected with Wuhan pneumonia are sent to the outskirts of the city to quarantine. We know that there are no human rights behind the walls, but we did not think of transporting people using this…” reads the tweet.

Xi’an residents uploaded a video showing dozens of big buses and police vehicles parked outside a local community, ready to take residents to a designated location in the suburbs for quarantine. There are also videos showing the emergency construction of cabin hospitals.

“As of 12:00 on January 4, a total of 274 cases were confirmed in Xi’an urban village households, including 100 confirmed cases in Panjiazhuang village. The following set of videos shows the process of blocking the village and transportation of people for quarantine. It was executed at night!” the tweet reads. 

“It’s said that the tunnel is full of iron beds. According to Xi’an residents, cabin hospitals are being built everywhere.”

Massive numbers of residents have been taken away for quarantine. The video shows a tunnel where workers are placing iron beds, and it’s not clear whether they’re being used as a cabin hospital or an isolation site,” says the tweet.  

Another person who was taken to the quarantine site uploaded a video revealing the state of the quarantine site. It’s virtually without water, electricity, and heating, with five bunks that can sleep 10 people. A woman in Xi’an also cried to the quarantine staff that she could not buy sanitary pads because of the confinement, but they turned a blind eye to her.

Residents also photographed the authorities placing a large number of bunk beds under the viaducts and in the parking garages, which made people wonder, “Is it to be used for quarantine?” 

 “Xi’an, transfer people into the tunnel under the viaduct in order to clear out cases!” says the tweet. 

In addition, a video shows that after the “COVID zero” operation in Xi’an, a young man in Lianhu District was caught by surveillance officers when he decided to go out to the supermarket to buy food as he had run out at home. The official made him apologize publicly in front of a camera, was scolded, and threatened with police action next time. 

Government cancels WeChat

Instead of proactively helping people solve problems, the Xi’an authorities have started a comprehensive campaign to silence them.

In the early morning of Jan. 5, Xi’an residents received an “important notice” from the government on WeChat, which read, “During the epidemic prevention and control period, the people of Xi’an are united in one heart and one mind. In response to the government’s call, starting from 00:00 on Jan. 4, no tidbits of information will be allowed to be posted in the group during the outbreak. The WeChat team is monitoring all the WeChat groups. If there is any negative news dissemination, the group will be closed. We hope everyone will pay attention and tell each other.”

Residents of Xi’an confirmed to Radio Free Asia (RFA) that local WeChat is now forbidden to post videos and negative news related to the outbreak. Even the earlier news of the death of an elderly man due to hospital rejection is no longer allowed to be shared.

Earlier, a Xi’an resident in the middle-risk area reported that his father had a heart attack at home, but was refused admission to the hospital. He eventually died due to the delay. 

Later, a pregnant woman was denied admission to the hospital because her nucleic acid certificate was “four hours overdue.” After waiting for two hours in the cold, she ended up bleeding profusely and miscarrying her 8-month-old baby. 

Outbreak spins out of control

Regarding the outbreak in Xi’an, Zeng Guang, former chief scientist of epidemiology at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that the Xi’an outbreak is the most severe one after the lockdown of Wuhan. Xi’an is facing the Delta variant of the virus, which itself spreads faster than the original strain of the virus in Wuhan.

Zeng Guang confessed that what happens today in Xi’an will happen later in other cities in China.