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China and Covid19

Another Death in Isolation: Hohhot Woman Falls to Death from 12th Floor of Locked-Down Building

What happened in Hohhot? And why did the incident receive nationwide attention? An explainer including timeline.

Manya Koetse

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A 55-year-old woman in the city of Hohhot fell to her death from the 12th floor of her building on November 4th. The incident has become a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media, mainly because the woman’s building had fences around it with gates locked on both sides, preventing residents from leaving – even in an emergency situation.

The most-read Weibo post of this week concerns a police notice regarding an incident in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, in which a 55-year-old female resident fell to her death from the 12th floor of her building.

The police notice, republished by China Newsweek Magazine (@中国新闻周刊), received over 1,6 million ‘likes’ and nearly 80,000 comments and over 68,000 shares. It was the number one Weibo post of the week in the Sina Weibo official top trending posts overview.

The incident happened on November 4 at Beiyuan road’s Xingguang A9 community (兴光A9小区) in the Xincheng District of Hohhot (呼和浩特市新城区). The police reportedly received a call at 18:10 that a woman had fallen from the window. They arrived at the scene at 18:15, and the emergency medical workers pronounced the woman dead shortly after.

The police urged netizens to stop sharing any videos related to the incident that circulated online.

The woman, Mrs Wang, lived together with her 29-year-old daughter at the Unit 2 building of the community. She allegedly suffered from an anxiety disorder and took prescription drugs for her condition since 2019.

Since 26 October, the community had become a ‘high-risk area’ due to two positive Covid cases, and an ‘isolation barrier’ was placed around the Unit 2 building to prevent residents from leaving the compound.

Locked-down unit with a barrier around it, photo via Lifeweek.

One reason why this particular incident has caused so much commotion on Chinese social media is that the residential building where Wang and her daughter resided was completely shut down; the gates were locked from the outside, and residents were also unable to open them from the inside. This led to a terrible situation in which Wang’s daughter was unable to rush out to get help at a critical moment, despite her banging at the doors of the gates.

News of this incident also comes at a time when several stories like this have gone trending on Chinese social media, including the incident in Ruzhou where a girl died due to a lack of medical care at a local quarantine center; and the recent case of a 3-year-old boy who suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning inside a ‘high-risk area’ with insufficient medical emergency response channels.

 

TIMELINE OF EVENTS


 

On Sunday, Hohhot’s Xincheng District authorities released a timeline detailing how the events exactly occurred on Friday, based on Wechat records and the emergency line records.

On November 4, at 10:13 in the morning, Wang’s daughter contacted the property manager Zhang X. via WeChat to report that her mother was having a mental breakdown.

She contacted Zhang at 17:13 again to report that her mother’s condition had worsened and that she was showing suicidal behavior. When asking if Zhang could call the emergency hotline, she was reportedly told “call them yourself, I’m busy.”

At 17:23, the eldest daughter of Wang, a 35-year-old resident of Hainan, contacted the emergency hotline on behalf of her sister, because the sisters allegedly were afraid that their mother’s condition would further deteriorate if the hotline was contacted in their mother’s presence. The dispatcher team, however, decided that the case was a non-emergency one and the case was temporarily put on hold.

At 17:31, as the situation was not improving at all, Wang’s second daughter called for an ambulance and notified the property management to arrange for community workers to get ready to meet the ambulance staff at the community gate.

Zhang X. arranged for property management staff member Wu X. to meet the ambulance and the main community gate, and then allegedly also reported the case to the residential complex staff member in charge, who seemingly failed to forward the message to the relevant workers at the scene. Not a single member of staff came to check on Wang and her daughter at their apartment.

At 18:04, Mrs Wang fell from the bedroom window of her apartment on the 12th floor of the building. Just moments before, her daughter had gone into the living room to charge her phone.

Several calls came in at the emergency hotlines in the following minutes about the woman falling from the window.

At 18:10, a local staff member could hear someone – Wang’s daughter – shouting and banging from the other side of the isolation barrier. When the gate of the barrier was opened, they found the person had gone back inside.

At 18:14, Wang’s daughter contacted the property manager and asked them to open up the barrier gates.

By 18:15, first responders had arrived at the scene and were let into the community gates, finding the daughter sitting by her deceased mother’s body.

Mrs Wang was officially pronounced dead at 18:39. Her remains were transported to the morgue at 20:22.

The Hohhot Xincheng District extended their condolences to the Wang family and admitted that their local emergency response system was lagging behind and that the situation was poorly handled by the property management and residential area staff.

The district authorities stated they would strengthen their emergency response system and would hold those who mismanaged the situation accountable in accordance with the law.

 

INSIDE THE LOCKED-DOWN UNITS


 

Over the weekend, flowers piled up outside the gate of the Xingguang A9 community.

Chinese media outlet Lifeweek (三联生活周刊) published a story and several interviews on 6 November, using the hashtag “Life Behind the Doors of the Locked-down Units” (#封闭在单元门背后的生活#).

Lifeweek reporters spoke to neighbors living in Unit 2 of Xingguang A9 as well as other people in the neighbourhood.

They confirmed that virtually all buildings that were deemed ‘high risk’ – and sometimes some labeled as lower risk – had been shut off from the outside world, leaving residents unable to leave. The gates were locked from both the outside and the inside, as was the case with Xingguang A9.

Example of a local unit being locked, leaving residents unable to leave (this is not Unit 2).

“This just makes my blood run cold,” some commenters said on Weibo, where many people expressed anger about the incident and also about how it was presented by several state media outlets: they focused on the woman falling from the window rather than the fact that the building was locked down.

Flowers outside the community, photo originally published by Lifeweek.

In light of the incident, Hohhot’s local epidemic prevention authorities released an official statement regarding Covid-19 lockdown measures. Locking residents inside their building is not allowed, authorities said, emphasizing that emergency and escape routes should always be kept clear of all obstructions and that community gates should never be locked.

Although it is still allowed to close the doors of a building and to set up isolation fences, they can only be closed with a seal that can be broken in case of an emergency. Closing the door with locks, pins, bars, etc is not allowed.

Despite the promises of improvement, some commenters online are pessimistic about what this winter will bring: “Looking at Xinjiang, Hohhot, this virus is being mismanaged and all that we’re facing this winter is the fight against the epidemic. Otherwise they’ll have to change the policies. The consequences are unthinkable.”

On Douyin (TikTok), various unverified videos show unethical lockdown measures, with doors being locked with chains and bars, in light of what happened in Hohhot.

The censorship that comes with topics such as these is also not reassuring to many: “They’ve put on comment filtering again. The comments on display are monotone and actually reveal what they want to hide.”

“I beg you, give us a way out,” one Weibo user wrote.

Many commenters expressed that they do not necessarily oppose China’s fight against Covid, but that they just oppose “excessive anti-epidemic measures.”

One popular Douyin comment said: “How many more sacrifices do we need to bring before you wake up?”

 
By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

For information and support on mental health and suicide, international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

Chinese Commentator Hu Xijin Expects to “Get Covid Within a Month” (and Why It Matters)

This Hu Xijin commentary can be seen as part of a wider trend of normalizing Covid in the Chinese online media sphere.

Manya Koetse

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Hu Xijin (胡锡进), the Beijing-based retired editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times, recently published a post on the Chinese social media platform Weibo about him getting mentally ready to be infected with Covid-19 soon.

The former journalist Hu, whose posts and statements often go trending and influence public opinion, also made a few other noteworthy comments.

On Sunday (Dec 4), Hu posted: “Over the past week, China has essentially ended widespread lockdowns, with places like Beijing and others beginning to allow home quarantine for many positive individuals, while reducing the scope of nucleic acid testing. These are amazing changes.”

Four weeks ago, right before China introduced its twenty new Covid measures, Hu already argued that strict lockdowns are no longer sustainable and that China should aim for a more relaxed and local approach (which is exactly what happened).

Now, Hu Xijin says that he is “mentally preparing to be infected with Covid within the coming month” (“做好了在一个月之内被感染上的思想准备”), further writing:

In order for young people to have a colorful young era, in order to save the livelihood of so many service industry workers, in order for people from all walks of life to avoid seeing their wages cut, in order for so many companies to get out of their predicaments, this 62-year-old ‘Old Hu’ is willing to participate in the risk of getting [a virus that] degenerated to only 2.5 per 10,000 rate of getting seriously ill.”

Hu’s post was published on December 2nd in the context of Hu Says, a regular video column by Hu Xijin.

A few months ago, such a comment coming from such a big account would have been unthinkable.

In May of this year, those who tested positive still complained about suffering from stigmatization in society.

But Hu’s comments come at a time when there are more discussions about getting Covid and sharing the experiences of having Covid.

In the second week of November, shortly after Chinese authorities launched their updated Covid rules, the hashtag “What Is It Like to Catch Covid-19?” (#感染新冠是什么体验#) already went trending on Weibo, along with other hashtags informing Chinese netizens about what it’s like to get Covid – a virus that so many in China never experienced first hand.

Since Hu Xijin (1960) ended his career as the editor-in-chief of Global Times in 2021, his role as a political commentator has arguably become even more important and more visible on Weibo than before, especially in China’s challenging Covid times of 2021.

Some find him overly nationalistic, for others he is not nationalistic enough; there are those who find him reasonable, and then some say he is repetitive and just dancing to the tune of Party propaganda. But then there have also been some discussions – in light of Pelosi’s controversial Taiwan visit – about Hu misleading public opinion by not matching the official stance.

Whichever it is, some things are certain: Hu has some 25 million followers on Weibo, and he is often the first major media account that is allowed to discuss in detail some major sensitive social topics, even if these online discussions are otherwise being tightly controlled (think of the Tangshan BBQ Restaurant incident, the future of zero Covid, the Urumqi fire, and the 11.24 protests across China.)

Hu’s comments about ‘catching Covid soon’ can be seen as part of a wider trend of normalizing Covid in the Chinese online media sphere, preparing people to face a virus they are still unfamiliar with since ‘zero Covid’ has always been the main goal.

On December 3, Hu further clarified his comments about preparing to getting Covid. He explained he expects to catch the virus because he is active in the media environment, through which he unavoidably is in touch with many different people. He also promised that if he might get infected, he would share his Covid experience with all of his readers.

As the idea of catching Covid is becoming more normalized (there are more and more trending hashtags informing what to expect after getting Covid, e.g. #新冠发病7天内身体会发生什么变化#), people are also exchanging non-scientifical advice on how to prevent catching Covid, such as drinking licorice ginger soup, holding Sichuan peppercorns inside your mouth when going out, or getting silicon covers for the drains in the bathroom to prevent the virus coming through via neighboring apartments.

Some express their worries about catching the virus. “I’m really scared. I’ve already replaced all of my masks with K95 ones,” one Weibo user wrote: “My immune system has been weak since I was little, and I have allergies. I have the feeling that if I get infected I might lose half my life, if I don’t die (..) I’m in a state of panic.”

Even though China is still far from ‘opening up’, some people are already preparing to ‘live together with the virus,’ reminding others that getting vaccinated, keeping social distance, and washing hands are all measures that will help in preventing getting Covid.

“I am worried about getting Covid but I also want to open up,” some on Weibo said.

“As much as I wanted it all to end, this feels abrupt,” one social media user from Inner Mongolia wrote: “It won’t be the same as before. The thorough ‘zero Covid’ [policy] has gone. The country’s protection of our health has gone up to this point. I hope everyone can now take care in prevention themselves, and protect themselves and their families. I hope the epidemic situation will end soon, that the world will be ok, and that we can have our freedom.”

Meanwhile, Hu Xijin informed netizens on Saturday that he had some milk, boiled eggs, pastry and pickled mustard greens for breakfast. While working on his condition and nutrition, he says that if his Covid positive time comes, he will not get any VIP treatment. If allowed, he’ll either recover from home or go to a centralized Covid location.

He will just have to wait and see what happens, just as millions of other Chinese citizens are waiting to see what this winter is going to bring.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

The featured images are all images that went viral recently in light of China opening up (including nucleic acid testing booths being taken away).

 

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China and Covid19

Announced Changes in Nucleic Acid Testing and Further Easing of Covid Measures Across China

Bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate.

Manya Koetse

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On Monday, directly after that noteworthy unrest-filled weekend, the hashtag “Multiple Locations Announce Nucleic Acid Testing Changes” (#多地核酸检测通知发生变化#) went trending on Chinese social media, receiving over 660 million clicks by Monday evening.

Immediately following demonstrations in Beijing and a second night of protests in Shanghai and elsewhere, various Chinese media reported how different areas across the country are introducing changes to their current Covid19 testing measures.

On Wednesday, November 30, China’s vice-premier Sun Chunlan made remarks at a meeting on epidemic prevention, underlining the importance of “constantly optimizing” China’s Covid-19 response and talking about a “new stage and mission” – without ever mentioning “zero Covid.”

This is what we know about easing Covid measures thus far:

▶ Strict lockdowns have been lifted in Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, and Chongqing.

▶ On November 28, Guangzhou announced that people who do not actively participate in social life will no longer need to participate in continuous nucleic acid screening. This includes elderly people who stay indoors for long periods of time, students who take online classes, and those who work from home. The change will apply to residents in seven districts, including Haizhu, Panyu, Tianhe, and Baiyun (#广州7区无社会面活动者可不参加全员核酸#).

▶ Guangzhou, according to Reuters, also scrapped a rule that only people with a negative COVID test can buy fever medication over the counter.

Harbin will follow the example of Guangzhou, and will also allow people who are mostly based at home to skip nucleic acid test screenings.

▶ Same goes for Shenyang, and Taiyuan.

▶ In Chongqing, various districts have done widespread Covid testing campaigns, but the local authorities announced that those communities that have not had a positive Covid case over the past five days do not need to participate in nucleic acid screening anymore. This means an end to district-wide testing.

▶ On November 30, Beijing also announced that it will start exempting some people from frequent Covid testing, including those elderly residents who are bound to home and other people who do not go out and have social interactions. This also includes younger students who are following classes online.

▶ Starting from December 5, bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate (announced on December 2nd).

▶ Although not officially announced, there have been various social media posts and reports about Covid-positive people in Beijing being allowed to quarantine at home if they meet conditions.

Chengdu Metro announced on December 2nd that it will no longer check passengers’ nucleic acid test reports. Passengers still need to scan their travel code and those with a green code can enter. Other public places will reportedly also start to accept the ‘green code’ only without a time limit on nucleic acid testing.

Tianjin metro announced that the 72-hour nucleic acid certificate check will be also be canceled for passengers on the Tianjin metro lines. As in other places, people will still need to wear proper face masks and undergo temperature checks.

▶ In Hangzhou, except for at special places such as nursing homes, orphanages, primary and secondary schools, people’s nucleic acid tests will no longer be checked in public transportation and other public places. They will also stop checking people’s Venue Codes (场所码).

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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