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Emptied villages. Locked campuses. How China battles a COVID-19 resurgence

Alice Su, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

No one has died in the recent outbreak, and similar “wartime mode” reactions to tiny outbreaks through 2020 have quickly controlled the virus and allowed a quick return to work, school, travel and social gatherings.

Yet that same insistence on control has obstructed research into the pandemic’s origins and silenced Chinese voices that challenge the government’s positive narrative. In late December, a former lawyer named Zhang Zhan was sentenced to four years in prison for recording videos in Wuhan of overcrowded hospitals, fearful residents and her own questions about government suppression of whistleblowers.

Zhang is one of at least four Chinese video bloggers, including another lawyer and a former CCTV host, who disappeared from Wuhan while posting on-the-ground videos last year.

Lu Qiang, Party secretary of Xiaoguozhuang village, one of the first places where the outbreak began in Shijiazhuang, told Chinese business news outlet Yicai that it had taken about 10 days to evacuate all 4,000 villagers. It wasn’t easy to convince the villagers, Lu said in the report, which was removed from the internet a few hours after it was published Tuesday.

Many villagers had questioned why they should move if quarantine sites were not prepared. Why move the whole village instead of just positive cases? Why couldn’t they quarantine at home? Lu had spent a morning speaking into the village broadcast system, he said, telling them: “If we leave, we’ll feel better and so will others. This is the right thing to do.”

The operation was haphazard and quarantine conditions undesirable, though they eventually improved, a Xiaoguozhuang villager said in the report. Big buses moved villagers in groups of 50 to 60 to quarantine sites where there were often no blankets or pillows.

 

At least one bus had left its passengers on board overnight because no quarantine spots were available. The bus door remained open despite the 1.5-degree temperature, out of fear that turning on the heat would increase virus transmission, the report said.

Similar complaints were raised online about a school used for quarantine in Xingtai. People taken for quarantine posted videos on the social media platform Weibo of soiled bathrooms and dormitories and photos of people crowding to get water, complaining that there was no social distancing or hygiene.

“This isn’t quarantine, this is concentration,” one user wrote. Students meanwhile protested that they had not been informed their dormitories would be requisitioned and that their personal items were still inside.

Xingtai authorities released a statement acknowledging the quarantine shortcomings and promising to improve. Some of the Weibo posts were then deleted.

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