The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Tuesday placed a city of five million people in lockdown amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in several locations around the country.
All 4.9 million residents of Langfang city in the northern province of Hebei were ordered to stay home, as the authorities prepared to roll out a mass testing program in the city.
Langfang’s lockdown follows that of Shijiazhuang, provincial capital of Hebei, whose 11 million population have been under lockdown for several days.
In Hebei’s Xingtai city, the CCP issued a directive calling for donations from the private sector to support the healthcare industry during the pandemic.
A Jan. 10 directive signed by the CCP’s United Front Work Department, which mobilizes support outside of the ruling party, called on local authorities in nearby Nangong city to “levy pandemic supplies from private entrepreneurs, including single beds, mattresses, quilts, pillows, buckets, medical waste bags, and so on.”
An employee who answered the phone at the department confirmed the report.
“Our entire supply network has been cut off, so we can’t bring in supplies from elsewhere now,” the employee said. “Some people can drive themselves to Xingtai … and we coordinate to let them in, but most cars aren’t being allowed into Hebei right now, and can’t even get onto the highway without a pass; it’s all blocked.”
“That’s why the [truck] drivers don’t want to come here.”
Travel restrictions in force
In Shijiazhuang, non-essential vehicles are barred from entering or leaving city limits, and the city has suspended major transport links following an outbreak earlier this month.
Passengers are being prevented from taking trains out of the city, and ticket sales have been suspended, state media reported.
The authorities have also banned gatherings, closed schools, and thrown a security cordon around some areas of the city, with contact tracing teams set up at provincial, city, and district levels.
Essential workers seeking to enter the city are waiting for hours to submit to checks of their ID and negative COVID-19 test results.
A Nangong resident surnamed Wang said the authorities had carried out city-wide mass testing of more than 10 million people in just three days.
“There are more than 100 [cases] a day now [in Shijiazhuang] and it’s even worse in Nangong,” she said. “In some areas, entire villages have been taken away, which must be for isolation.”
“Anyone from Shijiazhuang and Hebei are being treated like pariahs now, just as people from Wuhan were last year,” she said. “Transportation is totally shut down. No high speed trains, no subway, no planes, nothing.”
Hebei’s Xiong’an New District has launched a campaign of COVID-19 testing for all government employees, while authorities in Gu’an county have imposed a seven-day quarantine on local residents.
In Beijing, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) has called for a ban on taxis, ride-sharing, and car-pooling services until drivers can get tested and vaccinated, according to the CCP-backed Beijing Daily newspaper.
Authorities have also locked down Wangkui county in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang after 36 asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 were confirmed there, while Changchun city has imposed restrictions on the movements of some residents after asymptomatic cases were detected there too.
Fears of a second wave
A resident of the northeastern city of Dalian surnamed Wu told RFA that local residents are fearful that a second wave of COVID-19 is under way in the region.
“I am pretty scared, because the pandemic is constantly evolving and the situation is very complicated,” Wu said. “The pandemic is pretty bad across the whole of the northeast right now.”
A resident of the central province of Hubei surnamed Gao said local residents depend on a health clearance code to be able to come and go from their residential compounds.
“We hadn’t needed it for a few months, but now they are starting to ask for a health code if we want to get into the compound,” Gao said.
Police in Wuhan’s Qiaokou district said rumors had circulated that two cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed on Hanzheng Street, a historic shopping district and tourist destination, and that all employees on the street were being mass-tested for the coronavirus.
But it claimed that the reports, once investigated, had been found to be untrue.
“We hope people will refrain from believing or spreading rumors, and consciously resist rumors they hear online,” the police said in a social media post.
“Anyone deliberately spreading rumors or misinformation will be punished by police … once they have investigated.”
Gao said that many of the rumors are likely accurate information that the authorities don’t want people to know, however.
“We are in another wave of this pandemic, and there is a lot of truth in the rumors we are hearing,” he said. “They are actually pretty credible.”
“Of course they dictate [the way things go]; regular folk have no way to do that,” Gao said. “We only get to see the things they want us to see; we will never know [about the rest of it].”
Zhang Hai, who has campaigned for redress for a relative struck down by COVID-19 in the central city of Wuhan, said many people are skeptical of calls for donations.
“Many people are on a lower income than they were before the pandemic, and families are finding it hard to make ends meet,” Zhang said. “Maybe companies will donate … because if they don’t, that could mean all kinds of trouble for them.”
Party meetings postponed
The Hebei Provincial People’s Congress announced it would postpone its plenary session that is usually held ahead of National People’s Congress (NPC) annual sessions in Beijing in March, with the new date to be announced later.
Provincial People’s Congresses have also been cancelled in the southern province of Guangdong and in Hubei.
Total confirmed COVID-19 cases reported in mainland China stood at 87,591 on Tuesday while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634. However, newly reported asymptomatic cases rose to 81 on Tuesday from 76 on Monday.
World Health Organization (WHO) experts are now being permitted to visit Wuhan in a bid to gather evidence about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Monday.
The experts will arrive in Wuhan on Thursday after being delayed for months.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the scientists, who come from several nations, will focus on how the coronavirus first jumped to people.
“Studies will begin in Wuhan to identify the potential source of infection of the early cases,” Tedros said.
China has rejected calls for an independent investigation while strictly controlling all research into the origins of the coronavirus and promoting fringe theories that the virus may have actually been brought to China from outside, the Associated Press reported.
Reported by Xiaoshan Huang and Chingman for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.