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Stuck in China’s covid lockdown, people plead for food and medical care

BEIJING — Frantic calls for food and medical care are spreading across China in a grim deja vu, as tens of millions of people are put under coronavirus lockdowns for weeks ahead of a key Communist Party meeting in power.

As much of the world moves beyond the pandemic, China remains in lockdown, with leader Xi Jinping continuing to order to maintain “zero covid”. These confinements prevent localized epidemics from spreading, but have a huge economic and psychological impact on the population.

Xi is set to begin a third five-year term next month, breaking the precedent of stepping down after two terms. Lockdowns are expected to continue at least until this meeting, the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said on Friday that some large-scale controls should be tightened, without giving a time frame, but she also stressed the importance of preventing large-scale epidemics before the congress, according to the news agency. Xinhua official.

Some of the worst reports come from Ili prefecture in China’s northwest Xinjiang region, where a lockdown began early last month.

“We have been locked up at home for more than 40 days. We lack everything, especially food,” said Ili resident Gulnazar, who gave only one name for security reasons. “There are so many difficulties, I want to cry just thinking about them.”

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gulnazar said local authorities locked the door to their apartment from the outside and only opened it when medical workers came to do coronavirus tests.

In some cities, neighborhood committees delivered free groceries to confined people. But Gulnazar said their neighborhood committee only offered to sell them food at higher than normal prices, and that was not so often the case. The last time the committee came to Gulnazar’s gate was 11 days ago, she said.

“We only eat naan and congee,” she said, referring to flatbread and porridge. “There is no milk or vegetables.”

Others in Ili have posted online about the inability to take sick children to hospital, as well as the deaths of family members in custody. The reports were widely circulated on Chinese social media but could not immediately be verified by The Washington Post.

Ili’s government apologized on Friday for problems with the lockdown response, but it also dismissed some reports as rumours, including that of an old man killing himself. Ili police announced on Sunday that four people had been sentenced to five to 10 days each for “spreading rumours” about the lockdown and warned residents to watch their words.

The official number of cases in China remains tiny, with only 949 locally transmitted cases reported nationwide on Sunday, out of a population of 1.4 billion.

The economic hardships of the closures have prompted many complaints from residents who cannot work and survive with dwindling savings. Public discontent is a challenge for Xi, who has sought to project an image of a populist leader and has said ending poverty is a central goal of his administration.

In southwest Guiyang, which began a lockdown in parts of the city on September 5, residents reported online Monday that they were struggling to get food. “All supermarkets and small stores where you can shop are closed,” one wrote on Weibo. “Government-designated online shopping platforms are also experiencing shortages and you cannot buy things or receive deliveries.”

A wildlife park in Guizhou has set up a public advocacy last week in food to feed his tigers, pandas and other wild animals.

Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, began locking down parts of the city early last month. In a widely shared post on Weibo, someone in Tibet claimed they weren’t able to bathe for 12 days at a quarantine center.

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The scenes recall Shanghai’s two-month lockdown this year, which plunged residents of one of China’s wealthiest cities into a struggle for survival. With supply chains broken down, residents made urgent calls for food and pleaded for sick family members to be allowed out of lockdown to hospitals.

The Shanghai government has acknowledged that several people died due to medical emergencies during the lockdown.

China’s response to the pandemic has drawn praise in some quarters, with the shutdowns saving lives at a time when there were no vaccines. But as effective vaccines have been rolled out and more infectious but less lethal variants have become mainstream, criticism of Beijing’s “zero covid” approach has grown.

State media has strongly welcomed the policy, saying it shows the Chinese government is unwilling to accept mass covid deaths as western democracies have.

Beijing leaders say they want to facilitate their return to normalcy, but so far it is unclear when and how that will happen. The government has relaxed some of its controls this year, such as shortening the quarantine for those entering the country to one week and making it easier to travel between provinces.

But towns suffering from epidemics returned to isolation, with city officials often fired or punished afterwards.

Beijing has argued that the country cannot stop the lockdowns because a significant portion of the population, especially the elderly, is still unvaccinated. China has also refused to import the most effective foreign coronavirus vaccines, relying on domestic vaccines that offer less immunity.

The government has cracked down on much of the national criticism of the “zero covid” policy, including through censorship and detentions.

Even in Chinese cities without epidemics, pandemic controls are disrupting daily life. In cities like Beijing, residents must get a negative coronavirus test result every three days to enter office buildings, restaurants and other public spaces.

Chiang reported from Taipei, Taiwan. Pei Lin Wu in Taipei contributed to this report.

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