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Vacationers Stranded on China’s Hainan Island Plead for Food and Supplies as ‘Zero-COVID’ Lockdown Drags On

A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: August 12, 2022
A traveler is seen going through pre-departure formalities at the Sanya Phoenix International Airport on August 9, 2022 in Sanya, Hainan Province, China. Over 80,000 tourists have been stranded in the popular vacation city after thousands of new COVID-19 cases were detected and a citywide lockdown was imposed. (Image: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Since Aug. 1, China’s island province of Hainan has been under lockdown after a surge of new COVID-19 cases were reported. According to government statistics, the number of positive infections has exceeded 5,000 cases across 13 cities in the region.

Hainan, which is home to 10 million people and is about the size of Taiwan, lies to the south of the populous Guangdong Province and east across the Tonkin Gulf from Vietnam. Its tropical climate and beaches make the province a popular destination for Chinese vacationers. 

After the lockdown was imposed, over 80,000 travelers said they were stranded in Hainan’s city of Sanya after train stations and airports were shut down, and over 80 percent of flights out of the island were canceled. Others stranded in the city of Wanning have taken to social media to describe the frustrating situation they’re in, with some claiming they are starting to run out of food and essentials.

“We’re almost out of food and supplies,” one netizen wrote, while another said, “Is there anyone out there who cares about us?”

More on the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown in Sanya, Hainan Province. (Video: via China Forecast/YouTube)

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According to statistics released by Hainan’s Health Commision, since the beginning of August, there have been 5,154 confirmed infections in the province — the majority of which were traced back to Sanya. On Aug. 8, over 2,000 cases were reported in the cities of Danzhou, Wanning, Haikou, Qionghai, as well as in Lingshui, Ledong, Chengmai, and Lingao counties. Authorities added that Sanya’s total COVID tally now stands at 4,333 — prompting stricter lockdowns and movement curbs as cases continue to rise rapidly.

However, because the Chinese regime has been known to conceal accurate statistics, the real number of COVID infections in the country are often underreported by a large factor, something belied by the authorities’ official tally.

Chaotic management

One post on popular Chinese microblogging platform Weibo describes how the author and his or her small child were stranded in a rural inn of Wanning city. All restaurants were closed, and the inn owner had no way of procuring more food. The person described how they were “almost out of food and supplies, with no way of seeking aid.” 

“Nobody pays us any heed, no one does anything for us travelers,” the user wrote, adding that the national COVID hotline was also unresponsive. “I have called the 12345 hotline repeatedly, but I have yet to receive an answer from anyone.”

‘It feels hopeless’

Frustrated, the netizen concluded the post with: “The most pressing matter now is the food issue. No one cares about shortages or mass testing here. Nobody is responsible for us, and it feels hopeless.”

The Weibo user also attached an “emergency notice” from the city’s epidemic prevention that said: “The Wanning City epidemic is currently in a critical outbreak stage. No one is allowed to exit city checkpoints, and no one is allowed to enter.” The note, which has been widely circulated online, added that regular civilians would be barred from purchasing produce. “There is no reason to buy vegetables (except for front-line workers). All markets will be closed until further notice,” the notice read. 

Netizens describing their experiences during the Sanya lockdown. (Images: via Twitter)

According to other stranded travelers, since the lockdown was enacted, many have been forced to pay out-of-pocket to stay at “government-approved” hotels. And although authorities had promised “free accommodation and transportation arrangements” for those stuck in Sanya and other parts of Hainan, the reality was much different. 

“The current ‘half price’ [for a hotel room] is more expensive than the original price we initially booked,” one traveler told mainland Chinese outlet Zhengguan News.

Makeshift hospitals, quarantine camps and mass testing

As of Aug. 12, authorities in Hainan have said that in order to prepare for a potential influx of COVID patients, makeshift hospitals with a total capacity of 8,992 beds have been established. The facilities, which include a 5,612-bed-capacity center in Sanya, 1,920-bed in Haikou, and 1,460-bed in Danzhou will also include quarantine camps where those who test positive will be sent to.

According to a report by the state-run Beijing Daily, movement restrictions have been imposed throughout Hainan’s western county-level city of Dongfang due to the risk of “widespread community transmission,” affecting the area’s more than 400,000 residents. 

In the north, shops and other businesses in the county of Lingao are operating at greatly reduced capacity, as officials ordered restrictions on Aug. 11. All enclosed, non-essential establishments such as karaoke bars have been shut down, as well as scenic areas. Essential services such as supermarkets and nursing homes have been reduced to 50 percent of their normal business, and non-essential travel, movement, and gatherings have been banned. 

Sanya’s local government added that as of Aug. 11, the city had completed 9 rounds of nucleic acid testing covering most of its residents. The mass testing included those residing in the cities of Haikou, Qionghai, Dongfang, Danzhou, Lingao, Lingshui, Chengmai and Wenchang, as well as those in Ledong and Chengmai counties. 

Li Muzi contributed to this report