By Malik Wang and Jia Ao
Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Xi’an have placed the city of 13 million under lockdown, amid a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases and fears over a recent outbreak of epidemic hemorrhagic fever, local residents told RFA.
A resident of Xi’an’s Xixian New District surnamed Wang said her community had been placed under lockdown on Wednesday evening.
“I am guessing that the latest wave of cases in Xi’an must be higher than the original wave in Wuhan,” Wang told RFA, saying there are rumors that the city is going to be “the next Wuhan.”
“No hemorrhagic fever was found in Wuhan [in early 2020], but Xi’an is now faced with a double epidemic,” she said. “Everyone in China is paying attention to Xi’an right now,” she said.
The move comes after dozens of COVID-19 cases were reported by authorities in Xi’an over several consecutive days, with mass PCR testing already under way across the city.
However, the city has also seen a growing number of hemorrhagic fever cases in recent weeks, according to media controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The Global Times, which has close ties to CCP mouthpiece the People’s Daily, quoted a medical staff member at the infection unit of the First Affiliated Hospital of Xi’an Jiaotong University as saying that the hospital had admitted a patient with non-life-threatening hemorrhagic fever in the past few days.
“Hemorrhagic fever is a common infectious disease in northern China,” the paper said. “Starting from October every year, some areas of Shaanxi [of which Xi’an is the provincial capital] enter the high incidence season of hemorrhagic fever.”
The disease, also known as epidemic hemorrhagic fever, is caused by hantavirus, with rodents as the main source of infection, it said.
Wang said some restrictions were already in place ahead of Thursday’s lockdown, as China pursues a zero-COVID strategy ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“What I’m really worried about this time around is that we don’t know how long this lockdown will go on for; there’s the question of getting hold of supplies,” she said. “Even if we can get them, the prices will go up.”
Spot checks for compliance
City authorities have told people to stay home and order deliveries of food and other essentials, or to delegate a single person to go out and buy groceries every other day.
Anyone needing to leave their homes will require special certification from local residential committees, who will carry out spot checks to ensure residents are complying with the new restrictions, officials told a news conference on Wednesday.
The news prompted chaotic scenes across retail outlets in the city, as people scrambled to stock up on supplies, leaving their cars and motorbikes parked anyhow in the streets.
Public transportation hubs have been shut down, with more than 85 percent of flights in and out of Xi’an grounded, according to the flight tracker service VariFlight late on Wednesday.
A manager at a Holiday Inn hotel in Xi’an said nobody has been allowed in or out of the premises since midnight, and that it’s currently unclear how long the lockdown will last.
“We’re no longer accepting reservations, and no one will be allowed in or out after midnight,” the manager said. “We have no way to guarantee that we can feed all our guests, so we are telling them to cancel.”
“It’s for disease control and prevention.”
He said all employees who can go home have already done so, with some guests laying in stores of instant noodles to last them through the lockdown.
A staff member who answered the phone at the Xi’an Epidemic Control and Prevention Center said they had no information about the duration of the lockdown.
“Not yet, no,” the staff member said. “I have no way to answer your question in the absence of any specific instructions.”
He added: “We just implement policy; we don’t make it.”
A local resident who gave only the surname Liu said there is now no public transportation operating in Xi’an, and all the restaurants in his neighborhood have shut down.
“The moment they put you under lockdown, you have no freedom,” he said. “The restaurants have all been shut down to protect residents, but if there’s no food, then we can’t live.”
“This is the government doing this … all the people can do is try to do our own thing without being a burden on society,” he said.
New cases of COVID-19 have also been confirmed in the eastern province of Zhejiang, the southern province of Guangdong, the northern port city of Tianjin, Shanghai, and the northeastern province of Liaoning in recent days.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.