Three weeks from the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics, as the Chinese city of Xi’an was under total lockdown over a COVID outbreak, the top official in the province ordered authorities to double down on harsh containment measures—fearing that a spillover could affect the Games and harm the communist regime’s image.
Noting the opening of the Beijing Games in early February, the official, Zhao Yide, said that a spread of the outbreak would “create chaos to the overall situation of the country and smear the national image.”
Zhao, in a virtual speech given to the region’s health officials, ordered “the toughest measures” to be put in place in Xi’an to halt the transmission of the virus.
His speech came a day after the city’s 13 million residents were put into lockdown as authorities reported the country’s worst COVID-19 figures in 21 months. Such official figures, however, don’t likely reflect true infection rates, given the Chinese Communist Party’s practice of suppressing negative information to protect its image.
Public Anger and CensorshipThe city’s harsh measures, implemented under the regime’s “zero-COVID” policy, have since triggered an outpouring of public anger and despair, as residents used social media to voice their struggles in gaining access to food supplies and medical care.
“It’s been more than 20 days, and [local authorities] have sent food once—just once,” a netizen wrote in a Jan. 9 social media post, worrying about his friends who also were locked in their home.
As with all events that reflect unfavorably on the communist regime, China’s online censors have swooped in to suppress negative content.
“When the Chinese Communist Party was pushing extreme pandemic prevention measures, it was thinking about the Party’s image rather than the lives of the people,” he said. “It’s anti-human, and social control exacted at the cost of trampling on the lives and dignity of the Chinese people.”
Harsh MeasuresXi’an residents have shared tales of despair and hardship resulting from the city’s strict control measures on social media since the start of the lockdown on Dec. 23.
“Shouldn’t life come first?” wrote a netizen on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.
As public anger swelled, Chinese Communist Party officials issued a rare public apology to the woman who miscarried. On Jan. 6, Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said she was “deeply ashamed” over the mistreatment, while Liu Shunzhi, the city’s health commission director, bowed in apology over its handling of the case. Zhao, who gave the earlier speech, also called on authorities to prioritize people’s lives and physical health.