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China’s Zero-Covid Policy Angers Its Own Citizens

Authorities in Beijing face a stern task – stamp out Covid-19 before the Winter Olympics and Lunar New Year, but the task seems impossible given that all viruses, including Covid-19, spread rapidly leading to outbreaks and epidemics.

From cramming people into metal boxes to pregnant women dying outside hospitals, Chinese authorities have been slammed by international observers for its zero-Covid policy and the treatment it metes out to its own citizens – the very people the government is supposed to protect.

As more cities now join China’s list of locked down cities, some Chinese citizens also highlighted the ‘excesses’ – an act that could invite severe punishment as it aims to criticise the government’s response. They are outraged as the policy ends up harming

Authorities, however, remain on the backfoot. In Xi’an, the authorities apologised after outrage spilled on social media after a woman suffered miscarriage as the hospital would not admit her without a negative Covid-19 report. Xi’an health commission director Liu Shunzhi was red faced as Chinese social media were filled with viral videos and images of the woman sitting in a plastic stool surrounded by a pool of blood outside the hospital.

Shunzhi apologised but criticism poured on social media – a rare occurrence in China – highlighting the chaos in Xi’an, home to 13 million people and still under lockdown. Days later another woman also complained of miscarriage. She complained that the hotlines never worked.

“I don’t understand why I couldn’t get through at the public hotline, and why I got given the runaround everywhere. Maybe ordinary people’s lives are worthless,” the woman wrote on a Chinese social media site.

A report by Daily Mail earlier this week revealed that in some locations people were crammed into metal boxes and brought to quarantine centres whose infrastructure has collapsed. Stories of flooded toilets, lack of food and stringent actions at the hands of authorities are making rounds of social media.

Footage accessed by the Daily Mail showed a man being beaten up for going out to buy steamed buns for his family. The man was then beaten badly – his steamed buns lay soiled in the ground due to the tussle – by the guards outside a checkpoint.

In Xi’an, Shunzhi’s apology to the woman who suffered miscarriage was quickly followed up by another apology. This time from a Politburo member. “We’re deeply saddened and sorry to see such problems occur, which has exposed the sloppiness in prevention and control work, and the lesson is profound. The original purpose of epidemic prevention and control is to keep people healthy and safeguard lives,” Politburo member Sun Chunlan said days after the incident – a response rarely seen in China’s top-down political system.

China, since the onset of Covid-19, either from its city’s – Wuhan – wet market or a lab leak, has responded to the virus in an aggressive manner. Targeted lockdowns for entire cities where millions remain indoors, tracking people through apps and aggressive testing are the tools at disposal of the authorities.

China’s strict lockdown rules and complaints concerning those are not new. Similar concerns were raised earlier in 2020 when Wuhan residents faced similar fate as the city was locked down. But the chaos in Xi’an has caught the eye of observers – as well as the Chinese government.

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