(Bloomberg) — Almost two weeks of lockdown is starting to wear on the residents of Xi’an, the western city that’s the nexus of the longest outbreak of Covid-19 in China since the virus was first detected.
Shortages of food and medical care have worsened over the past 12 days since officials sealed off the city of 13 million people in an effort to stymie the flareup that has already led to more than 1,600 infections. More posts are starting to emerge on Chinese social media criticizing the government’s poor management and complaining that access to food is extremely limited.
Scenes like this haven’t been seen in China since the first days of the pandemic, when officials shut down Wuhan and introduced the Covid Zero policy it’s maintained ever since. The arrival of the more infectious delta variant has made the country’s approach increasingly difficult, at a time when much of the world has transitioned to living with the virus as it continues to mutate into even more transmissible strains.
The outbreak appears to have spread from the epicenter of Xi’an, which reported 95 new cases on Tuesday, as a growing number of infections emerged elsewhere. The eastern province of Zhejiang and central province of Henan reported eight and five cases respectively, while another 21 asymptomatic infections were detected country-wide and counted separately.
More than 100 people have been diagnosed daily for the past 10 days, a stark departure in China where a zero tolerance policy led to few locally transmitted infections throughout much of 2021. The deteriorating situation is putting officials under increased pressure as Chinese New Year, the country’s most important holiday and its busiest travel season, is looming, and it’s set to host the winter Olympics starting in February.
Some residents in Xi’an have started bartering food and cigarettes amid the shortages, according to posts seen on social media. Residents have been asked to remain inside their homes, with one family member allowed to leave every other day in a sometimes fruitless effort to find supplies. Others criticized the authorities for prioritizing residential compounds where government officials live.
The deputy mayor of Xi’an, and another official in the hardest-hit district, were fired as the city vowed to “strengthen epidemic prevention.”
Nerves are fraying as the rising number of cases and chaos in hospitals squeeze medical resources, leading to denied care for patients suffering from other conditions.
The father of one Xi’an resident couldn’t find medical care after a sudden heart attack, despite having a negative Covid test, according to a widely-circulated article on social media. They were also unable to get help via a medical hotline.
“Xi’an SOS,” the resident wrote, in a plea for outside help.
The tangled situation triggered online rumors about supply shortages that confused and upset residents. One video showed people in Fengyang, a smaller city in Shaanxi province, using a horse to bring in supplies. Officials later denied that traffic restrictions led locals to rely on alternate methods of transportation.
Local leaders in Xi’an have discouraged people from returning to their rural hometowns during Chinese New Year, the country’s most important holiday for family gathering. There is heightened concern about the increased risk of spreading the virus and seeding spillover events in other areas, according to officials speaking at a press conference on Monday.
Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan, was put under partial lockdown overnight after two Covid cases were reported in the city on Monday. Yuzhou, a smaller city in the same province, was shut earlier.