Urumqi eases COVID-19 lockdown, outdoor activities allowed in some communities as infections subside

By Liu Caiyu Source: Global Times Published: 2020/8/24 22:32:23

Qiu Tingting (R) collects garbage of the residents in quarantine at Renminlunan Community, Tianshan District of Urumqi, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Aug. 6, 2020. Qiu Tingting, 33, the secretary of the Renminlunan Community branch of the Communist Party of China, has been working tirelessly in the community during the COVID-19 epidemic. Residents in this community regard Qiu and her colleagues as "community servants at the frontline of epidemic prevention and control" for their careful and thoughtful work. (Xinhua/Zhao Ge)

Thirty-seven days after Urumqi, capital city of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, pressed the pause button to contain the COVID-19 resurgence, the city has gradually lifted its lockdown by allowing residents of some local communities where there have been no COVID-19 patients to engage in outdoor activities within the community as infections have gradually subsided. In response to difficulties that locals had during the long lockdown, major officials in Urumqi released their phone numbers on Monday, allowing them to hear residents' anxiety and help solve their problems.    

The Urumqi anti-epidemic team said starting from Sunday, residents from communities in three regions and some communities in six other districts were allowed to walk around within the community on the condition of wearing masks and maintaining social distances. 

The easing measure is a sign that the COVID-19 resurgence is gradually subsiding and Urumqi is expected to return to normality soon after the city locked all communities and required residents to stay indoors from July 17 when Xinjiang saw a fresh surge of COVID-19 infections. 

Since the source of infections remains unknown and young people in Xinjiang like social gatherings, sealing off communities and requiring residents to maintain social distancing is necessary and a must to curb the virus' spread, experts said.

They also said it is understandable that some residents may grumble about such a long lockdown but called for more understanding from residents about the anti-epidemic measures. 

Residents from some neighborhoods were given passes as they walked downstairs for outdoor activities one hour a day and some compounds arranged for residents go downstairs in batches, the Global Times learned from local residents. 

Residents from a community in a high-tech industrial development district of Urumqi were seen stretching their legs and arms, and some were jogging within the community, a video circulated online showed. 

The easing restrictions cover communities in Dabancheng district, Urumqi county and Ganquanpu district and some communities in six other districts - Midong, the high-tech industrial development district, Toutunhe district, Sayibak district, Shuimogou and Tianshan districts. 

A local media outlet said on Sunday, the first day of allowing residents outside, about 3,295 people from 15 communities were covered. 

Some other residents reached by the Global Times said they have not received announcements from their communities about the policy but they saw volunteers downstairs on Monday, so it's likely they will be allowed to go downstairs soon. 

"During the lockdown, volunteers and officials stationed at my community were very helpful. We had sufficient food and when some residents were sick, the community arranged for them to purchase medicine and go with them in vehicles to hospitals," a resident living in Shuimogou district, where residents haven't been told they can go out, surnamed Luo, told the Global Times. 

Luo said he is eager to go out and resume his business as soon as possible. Staying inside had affected him psychologically and professionally. "Some training institutes like mine haven't made any money for a long time. The epidemic almost bankrupted us," Luo said. 

Keeping people home for long periods of time could generate a sense of boredom and complaints are normal, but epidemic observers said given that the source of infections in Urumqi remains unknown and epidemic control is entering a key period, the city cannot let down its guard.

If Urumqi did not have such a long lockdown, it could have faced wider community transmission, since the clustered infection in Urumqi was tracked back to a wedding that could affect about 600 people from different communities, Zhang Yuexin, a medical expert who is part of the Xinjiang anti-epidemic group, told the Global Times on Monday.

Such a long lockdown is also a result of policymakers taking consideration of the social norms in Xinjiang, where people, especially the youngsters, enjoy hanging out outdoors and like to gather together, the Global Times learned.

"Unlike the clustered infections in Beijing, which adopted precise anti-epidemic measures by sealing off certain affected communities and the majority of residents could live normally, the same measures cannot fit Xinjiang," Zhang said.

Overcoming the gap with Beijing will require abundant social governance and the support of residents, Zhang noted, calling on residents in Urumqi to relax as easing epidemic measures will soon be seen. 

As of Monday, Urumqi had reported zero confirmed infections for eight consecutive days. The number of hospitalized confirmed patients fell to 183 and silent carriers dropped to 57. 

To help local residents ease their anxiety and solve problems for them, senior government officials released their numbers on Monday, including the Party secretary and mayor of Urumqi.

As another easing sign, some domestic airlines serving Xinjiang started to resume operations on Saturday, including some flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou. Travelers need a green health QR code and negative nucleic acid test. 

"The sacrifice that Urumqi people made for now will gain bigger benefits in the future. No one would like to see a rebound of the epidemic," Zhang said. 

Non-epidemic communities have to meet certain prerequisites before they can ease restrictions - no confirmed, suspected or asymptomatic patients, and all residents must test negative for COVID-19 in nucleic acid tests, according to the city anti-epidemic group.

Food stores and convenient stores within those communities can resume their operation in regulated time period. Working staffs at communities will disinfect the area where residents have outdoor activities six times a day, the city's anti-epidemic team said.

Fan Lingzhi contributed to this story

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