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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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©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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