Drop in Xi’an cases indicates light of hope amid hard lockdown
Chaos in early days exposes governance shortfalls
Published: Jan 05, 2022 09:42 PM
Medical staff conduct nucleic acid tests in a community in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province on December 21, 2021. Photo: VCG

Medical staff conduct nucleic acid tests in a community in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province on December 21, 2021. Photo: VCG

Xi'an, capital city of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province which was hit hard by a COVID-19 epidemic flare-up in the past weeks, saw a dim light of winning the battle against the resurgence as it reported 35 infections on Wednesday, a sharp drop from the previous day's 95 cases. 

All the new cases were detected among people in quarantine or sealed-off areas, which is a signal of community transmission being controlled, local authorities said on Wednesday. 

If the trend continues for a couple of more days without cases rebounding, the conclusion can be made that the previous control measures have worked, Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

Wang said the lifting of the lockdown should be carried out in a "precise" manner - normalcy should be restored to communities that have reported zero cases or have passed a certain quarantine period without new cases. 

Controls could last longer for communities that are reporting new cases, the expert said, noting that ultimately, the epidemic controls should balance results and social costs. 

During the early days after a sudden lockdown on December 23 and upgraded controls on December 27, stories about chaos have also emerged, and prompted reflection on whether the measures can be implemented better. 

Local people shared a consensus that Xi'an never lacked supplies, but the sudden and complete lockdown halted the logistics system that the mega-city relies on while governments and communities lacked enough hands for the "last mile." 

Difficulties in buying fresh food were common in the early days, and there was panic. Communities were largely self-sustained via a very few community workers and volunteers  before the government's free vegetable packages arrived in most places around the New Year's Day, the Global Times learned.

The situation has stabilized, as vegetables are being delivered routinely, and the channels for people with medical or other urgent needs have been streamlined. 

A Global Times reporter who currently lives in Xi'an has experienced a sudden lack of deliveries after the lockdown. The situation soon eased but became difficult again after the upgraded controls. People turned to primitive bartering, and logistics became stable around the New Year's Day.

After the lockdown, many residents were quickly mobilized to join the volunteer teams, delivering food for neighbors and helping organize massive nucleic acid testing. 

There were voices questioning whether such a lockdown is necessary, but living next to a "village in the city," the Global Times reporter believed those "villages," which are crowded with highly mobile groups of people, posed a great challenge to curbing community transmission, and the strict measures aimed to protect the public. 

Some Western media has hyped the situation in Xi'an and amplified individual cases to depict the city as a humanitarian crisis, which is far from the truth, observers said. Xi'an is figuring out a way, and the virus is now different from what it was in Wuhan. It is unfair to negate the city's efforts and achievements because of some problems. 

Xi'an also released notices, requiring districts to guarantee the needs of people with urgent medical conditions, chronic diseases requiring routine treatment and expectant mothers, a lesson learned from Wuhan. 

But there were cases of rigid implementation, like the beating of a starving young man who violated rules to buy steamed buns, and miscarriages caused by unsmooth channels to hospitals.

For a big city like Xi'an, policies are brought down to earth by numerous basic-level personnel. It is important to enhance their capabilities and sense of responsibility, observers said. 

In the past a few days, the diary of Jiang Xue, a media professional, received heated discussion. The diary was about the first 10 days of lockdown - how Jiang stored food, neighbors exchanged food and helped each other, and the more difficult situations that migrant workers and stranded visitors faced. 

The diary struck a chord among many Xi'an residents who were experiencing the difficulties, while Western media connected it to the diary of Fang Fang, which contained hearsay and distorted information during the Wuhan lockdown. 

Observers that observations and narratives from an individual perspective, as long as they are true and objective, are part of the lockdown records. That is different from fabricated "records" like Fang Fang's diary.  

For Xi'an, a lockdown will inevitably create problems and difficulties, and public complaints and critiques are driving local authorities to improve governance, they said.

Some analysts noted that those critical voices, and online attention to several really bad examples of rigid implementation of epidemic controls, reflected that the internet is an important and effective platform for public opinion to be expressed, and for supervision and government response in China. 

Western media hyped the situation in Xi'an maliciously because they lacked the capabilities to control community contagion, which had caused a real humanitarian crisis, an expert said.

Omicron variant is raging in many parts of the world in pace with the holidays. The US hit 1 million daily cases on Monday and several European countries have also had record numbers recently.

Yu Xi contributed to the story