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China and Covid19

Residents in Locked Down Lhasa Say Local Epidemic Situation is a “Giant Mess”

Manya Koetse

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They’ve been in lockdown for 42 days already, but according to some Lhasa-based bloggers, there have been no improvements in the local epidemic situation. They say there is a stark difference between what officials are reporting and the daily reality they are dealing with in Tibet.

“The epidemic situation is bad in Lhasa, please pay attention,” one netizen wrote on Weibo on September 15, pointing to many new posts surfacing on Chinese social media about the difficulties people are facing in Lhasa city in Tibet.

Over the past week, many Tibet-based bloggers have posted on social media about the local circumstances, and hundreds of Chinese social media posts talk about similar problems in the region. Despite the ongoing lockdown, they say, there are still a growing number of positive cases within Lhasa communities; buses are allegedly going back and forth to bring people to quarantine sites where those testing positive and negative are mixed; they claim that there is an absolute lack of management and control; and many locals suggest that the official reports do not reflect the actual number of Covid cases at all.

According to the official numbers, Tibet saw its peak in Covid cases on August 17 and has since reported fewer new cases, reporting a total of 118 new cases on Thursday.

“I am a bit shocked!” one local social media user wrote: “What I saw was a total of 28 buses lined up outside Lhasa Nagqu No. 2 Senior High School, and then still more [buses] were coming. One bus can fit around 50 people, so there must have been around 1400 positive cases. There was a blind man, there were elderly people in wheelchairs, there were swaddled-up babies, from getting on the bus at 9.30 pm up to now, we’ve been waiting for 5 hours and we’re still waiting now. It’s just pure chaos at the school entrance, there is no order. I won’t sleep tonight.”

On the 14th of September, another netizen wrote:

“In order to welcome central government leaders to Lhasa and to demonstrate the “excellent” epidemic prevention capabilities of the local government & the “outstanding” results of the fight against the epidemic to them, they moved citizens to the rural areas and let them all stay crowded together in unfinished concrete buildings, with all kinds of viruses having free reign.”

On a Lhasa community message board, one Weibo user wrote: “Lhasa has already been in lockdown for over a month, yet our little community has so many infected people that I’m wondering how effective a lockdown actually is? Has Tibet been forgotten? When other places in China have a few positive cases it becomes a hot topic. But what about Tibet? And what about Lhasa?”

Another anonymous poster writes: “Regarding the Lhasa epidemic situation, the numbers were already a bit fake before, but I can understand it was also to take the public sentiment into consideration. I personally don’t care how you report the data, as long as the epidemic prevention and control work is properly managed, then the lockdown can be lifted soon and nobody will say anything about it. But a month has passed already, and in a town with some hundred thousands of people, the epidemic work is increasingly getting worse. Many people around me have never even left the house and inexplicably turned out to test positive. Meanwhile those who tested positive are quarantined together with people who still tested negative, it’s a giant mess.”

 

“Lhasa hasn’t had a Covid outbreak for the past three years, the city doesn’t have enough experience in controlling the epidemic.”

 

“It’s the 42nd day of lockdown,” another person wrote on Friday: “People are lining up to go to centralized isolation, Lhasa has been in lockdown longer than Chengdu, but it doesn’t make it to the hot topic lists. People who tested negative again and again suddenly turn out to be positive. Lhasa hasn’t had a Covid outbreak for the past three years, the city doesn’t have enough experience in controlling the epidemic. It’s going to be hard to restore tourism here before the end of the year. Before, big crowds would come to visit.

Over the past few days, following a heightened focus on the situation in Xinjiang, there has also been more attention for the epidemic situation in Tibet.

“Please pay more attention to the topic of the Lhasa epidemic,” one person wrote, repeating a similar message sent out by many others: “Lhasa doesn’t need your prayers, we need exposure.”

On Friday, one popular gamer with more than a million followers wrote on Weibo:

“Many have been reaching out to me via private messages, saying that the epidemic situation in Tibet’s Lhasa is very serious. If it’s really like this, I hope matters can be settled as soon as possible. I don’t know if this post can stay up or not, but I want to try my best to speak up and generate more attention to this epidemic trend. I experienced two months of lockdown in Shanghai myself and understand what it feels like. I have faith in our nation, and I believe the country will definitely take action. Everyone in Tibet, jiayou [come on].”

Many of the comments and posts coming from Lhasa are similar to those we saw last week, coming from Yining in Xinjiang. Social media users based in these places complain that many of their posts have been deleted and that it is very difficult for local residents to make their voices heard.

This is different from the previous lockdown situations in, for example, Xi’an, Shanghai, or Chengdu, where people posted videos, photos, and shared their lockdown experiences, either from home, from the Covid testing lines, or from the makeshift hospitals.

On the one hand, the reason why people in places such as Lhasa or Yining have more difficulties in making their stories heard in China’s hectic social media environment relates to the fact that these places have a relatively small population size – while Yining and Lhasa have approximately 542,00 and 465,000 inhabitants respectively, there are 21 million people in Chengdu and some 26 million in Shanghai.

But a bigger barrier to posting about their circumstances is formed by the social media censorship that is extra strict when it comes to Xinjiang and Tibet as these places are considered sensitive political subjects, which is why topics related to these regions see far more aggressive online censorship – even for seemingly innocuous posts.

One Weibo user with over 600,000 followers wrote: “In such a sensitive place as Tibet, I really needn’t worry about whether they’re gonna see my post or not. I posted to vent my anger and scolded the leadership for a bit and within 24 hours the police came to my hotel and asked me to delete my posts. Now that everyone is asking for help like this, they will definitely see it, but they are determined to do this and do so on purpose, it’s clear they don’t care about people’s lives.”

Meanwhile, Chinese official media reporting on the epidemic situation in Tibet stress the collective effort to fight the virus in Lhasa. On September 15, People’s Daily reported how 18 sister provinces and cities across China sent their best teams to Tibet to help with local anti-epidemic work and to bring supplies.

The Tibet-based military blogger ZhufengZhengrong (@珠峰峥嵘) writes: “It’s been over a month and my comrade-in-arms are still fighting on the front line (..). I just hope the epidemic will end soon, and that I will be able to meet my family and hold my children and weep.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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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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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Tim Tam

    September 18, 2022 at 7:10 am

    The world already goes back to pre pandemic, the only country that is living like Covid has just happened is China.

  2. Avatar

    Yang Yang

    September 19, 2022 at 7:25 am

    I saw in one quarantine center, people were served the leftovers foods and rotten foods. I am really shocked in seeing real conditions of these Tibetan people under such a strict lockdown. It is like detention center.
    The world should not forgive China for her brutality over these innocent and peaceful people of Tibet.

    The world is not fair in real. When there is a situation happening in Ukraine, entire world shift their focus and support to Ukraine, but look at Tibet !!! Aren’t they human ? What would you do if it happens to your country or people? How you gonna react.

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China and Covid19

Happiest Lockdown in China: Guests Undergo Mandatory Quarantine at Shanghai Disneyland Hotel

“I wish I could be quarantined at Disney too!” The Shanghai Disney hotel apparently is the happiest place to get locked in.

Manya Koetse

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While many cities across China are experiencing new (partial) lockdowns and millions of people are confined to their homes, there was also a group of people that had to undergo mandatory quarantine at a very special place: the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel.

On September 7, social media posts started surfacing online from people who said they were required to quarantine while they were at the Shanghai Disneyland hotel. Disneyland reportedly had received a notification from the local health authorities that a visitor who previously stayed at the Disneyland hotel was found to be a close contact of a newly confirmed Covid case.

In line with the Center for Disease Control requirements, Disney created a ‘closed loop system’ by locking in all hotel residents and staff members and doing daily Covid tests. While the Disneyland theme park was open as usual, the hotel became a temporary isolation site where people’s health would be monitored for the next few days while all staff members would also be screened.

During their mandatory quarantine, guests stayed at the hotel for free and did not need to pay for their rooms. Room prices at the Shanghai Disneyland hotel start at around 3000 yuan/night ($433).

Some guests shared photos of their Disneyland quarantine stay on social media, showing how Disney staff provided them with free breakfast, lunch, a surprise afternoon tea, delicious dinner, fun snacks, and Disney toys and stickers.

On the Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) app, one Shanghai Disney visitor (nickname @恶霸小提莫) wrote: “We have three meals a day, there is both Chinese and Western-style breakfast, we also get afternoon tea and desserts, they have shrimp, beef, scallops, drinks, French macarons, yogurt, ice cream, and much more. We watched so many Disney movies for free. We are given so many little gifts, they brought us gifts twice today as they also brought us toy figures at night. We watch the fireworks from our windows every night at 8.30 pm. Although we weren’t allowed to go out, we really had a pleasant stay.”

Another Disney guest named Zoea (Xiaohongshu ID: yiya0313) also shared many photos of the mandatory quarantine and wrote: “When the staff knocked on the door to tell me they were bringing dinner, I even wondered how it was possible that they brought food again. Afternoon tea during quarantine, can you believe it? And fruit before dinner? And midnight snacks brought to us after dinner? And it was so nice to watch all the Disney movies on tv. Disney really is the most magical place.”

“I’m just so happy,” another locked-in Disney guest posted on social media, sharing pictures of Mickey Mouse cakes.

Other guests also posted about their experiences on social media. “They probably feared we would get bored so they brought us glue, stickers, and painting brushes, the kids loved it and so did we!”

Reading about the happy quarantine at Disney, many Weibo users responded that they envied the guests, writing: “I wish I could be quarantined at Disney too.”

“I need to find a way to get in, too,” others wrote.

Earlier this year, one Chinese woman shared her story of being quarantined inside a hotpot restaurant for three days. Although many people also envied the woman, who could eat all she wanted during her stay, she later said she felt like she had enough hotpot for the rest of her life.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China and Covid19

“We Want To Be Trending” – Online Cries for Help from Locked Down Yili in Xinjiang

Yili residents wonder: “We’ve been in this epidemic for three years already, how can the measures still be so poor?”

Manya Koetse

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While all eyes have been on Chengdu as the city of 21 million has been in semi-lockdown since September 1st, netizens from locked-down areas in Yili, Xinjiang, are begging for help and are reaching out via social media.

Since July 30, Yili has had 1290 Covid cases. A total of 23 cases were added on Saturday, September 10.

Yili, or Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, is part of northern Xinjiang near the border of Kazakhstan. Its primary city, Yining (also known as Ghulja), is home to some 500,000 people and has been locked down since at least August 11. People complain about a lack of food, “outrageous” commodity prices, and a lack of much-needed medical care.

On September 7, one woman wrote: “I’m 41 weeks + 1 day pregnant and nine days past my due date. I’ve been bleeding today. I already was at the Xinhua Hospital for five hours when they told me they were closing the hospital. There are 8 to 9 pregnant women waiting here. Where are we supposed to go, what are we supposed to do?”

As the woman’s story attracted some online attention, Weibo later added an update to the woman’s account saying she had received medical care and that both mother and baby were doing well.

But her story is just one among many. On September 8, one Weibo netizen posted an “SOS” post saying that local people who had been in lockdown for 36 days were becoming “desperate” as some families were unable to receive medical care for sick children or elder family members.

One audio recording (video) featured a conversation between medical staff and family members, who had come to the hospital by ambulance with their ill (grand)father but found he could not be admitted due to new Health Commission orders. “He’s starting to vomit blood again,” one of the women can be heard crying out: “Don’t you care? There’s blood, he has difficulty breathing, what are you doing?! It doesn’t matter what the Health Commission says, what can we do? Doctor! Doctor! Doctor, are you there?!”

Other families were dealing with food shortages and allegedly had gone without food for days on end. “This is really happening during the Yili epidemic, the locals have tried many things to let the outside world know about our circumstances here. I beg of you, look at us, help us in this little border town, we’re locked inside and don’t have enough supplies, yet they opened the tourist scenic areas, help us, help us here, help the Yili common people!”

The post attracted over 60,000 likes, was reposted over 11,000 times and received thousands of comments, with some saying: “We need to get this trending, how is this possible, the outside world doesn’t know anything about this!” “It’s all true, thanks for speaking up for us,” one Xinjiang-based Weibo user wrote.

Later, another netizen posted: “We’ve already been in lockdown for 39 days, I don’t have the words to express everything that’s going on here. We want to be trending!”

“We’ve been locked in for 40 days and yet they opened up the tourist areas,” one local posted the next day: “Children who have a 40 degree fever can’t even see a doctor, pregnant women can’t even get into the hospital, we really can’t take this anymore.”

Wit its beautiful grasslands and amazing views, Yili is a popular travel destination in Xinjiang.

On September 9, Yili authorities held a press conference during which deputy governor Liu Qinghua (刘庆华) confirmed that there had been problems in access to medical care and supplies and that local authorities were working on ensuring public’s medical needs during this period.

But on social media, the complaints and cries of despair are still ongoing. Some people share screenrecordings of local community Wechat groups where mothers are crying out of worry for their children, there are people saying they are hungry and that they have not been provided with any food.

Close contacts and those testing positive for Covid who were taken to local fangcang or quarantine locations also complain about the conditions there. One makeshift quarantine location was set up in August on a sports field where people were made to sleep in tents despite the blistering heat, followed by wind and rain.

“We’ve been in this epidemic for three years already from 2020 to 2022, how can the measures still be so poor?” some wonder.

“I’m patriotic and I love my hometown,” one Xinjiang-based netizen wrote on Weibo: “After graduating I had no second thoughts about returning home to work here. But I’ve become desperate over the past few years (..) I know the government is just a state apparatus and it can’t be perfect everywhere and it can even be heartless, but the people behind it should at least have a heart. I’ve really become so numb.”

“Here in Xinyuan County in Yili, I’ve been in lockdown for 31 days, how about you?” one person asked in the ‘Yili Supertopic’ group on Weibo. “It’s my 42nd day,” one person answered.

Another person also wrote: “When can we go out, it’s been 42 days.” “When will the lockdown be lifted?” others wondered.

There is also online discussion about which posts are true, what is being censored and why, and how to distinguish rumors from what is actually happening.

Some stories circulating online suggested an older resident in Yili hung himself out of hunger and despair, another story suggested there was a family with three children who had a high fever but could not get any help. These stories were later denied by local authorities, who claimed they were “lies made up by people with ulterior motives” (link) – the three children did receive medial help and the suicide story was allegedly fabricated.

“What is real, is that the entire city has been silent for 41 days,” one Weibo commenter responded, with another saying: “First they say it’s fake news, then they apologize.”

Others also wondered why Yili still was not trending on Weibo, with many suggesting the topic was purposely kept out of the hot lists.

As rain is pouring down in Yili, some are worried about the patients in the tent quarantine camp, while others welcome the showers: “I hope the rain can wash away all of the virus, so that we can finally go out again.”

By Manya Koetse 

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Featured image via Weibo user @渣男90702.

 

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