Residents of quarantined Chinese city Xian have been desperately bartering electronics for food amid worsening fears of shortages and starvation.
It comes as Yuzhou, a city of 1.2million in central China, was locked down on Tuesday after just three asymptomatic Covid-19 cases were recorded.
Xian’s 13 million residents have been confined to their homes since December 23 and are banned from leaving even for food and essential supplies, having to rely on local officials to drop off care packages.
But in recent days residents have taken to social media to voice concern over shortages, some said they were yet to receive aid from officials while others revealed they had resorted to bartering.
Photos and footage posted on Chinese social media site Weibo showed residents swapping a Nintendo Switch for instant noodles and steamed buns, cigarettes for a cabbage, sanitary pads for a small pile of vegetables and dishwashing liquid in exchange for apples.
State-media disputed the claims, posting pictures and footage of officials purporting to deliver bags of groceries to locked-down residents in December.
Other accounts also posted propaganda with pictures purporting to show lorries outside buildings in Xian and fridges stacked with fresh produce.
Xian, a popular tourist hub famed for its Terracotta Warriors, has reported 1,600 cases since December 9 – and although this may seem a small figure, Beijing is desperate to stamp out the virus ahead of the Winter Olympics next month.
Residents of quarantined Chinese city Xian have been desperately bartering electronics for food, including this swap of a Nintendo Switch for instant noodles and steamed buns, amid worsening fears of shortages and starvation
Photos and footage posted on Chinese social media site Weibo showed residents swapping cigarettes for a cabbage, (pictured) sanitary pads for a small pile of vegetables and dishwashing liquid in exchange for apples
Desperate residents of Xian bartered two packets of cigarettes in exchange for a cabbage, a tomato and a carrot amid the latest lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19
State-media disputed the claims, posting pictures and footage of officials purporting to deliver bags of groceries to locked-down residents
Twitter users also posted propaganda, claiming this was the ‘foods she just got delivered from the local gov, for free’
Some users also posted propaganda with pictures which purported to show lorries full of food being unloaded outside buildings in Xian
Xian, a city of 13 million, is a tourist hotspot famed for its Terracotta Warriors. It is a two hour flight from Beijing which hosts the Winter Olympics in February
China has seen a recent spike in infections, the majority from the city of Xian, but the official figures remain very low
Residents of Zhengzhou in Henan province line up for nucleic acid testing following an outbreak of Covid-19 in the city
China seals off thousands of Winter Olympic staff and volunteers for a MONTH as part of its zero-Covid policy to protect next month’s Games
China has sealed off thousands of Winter Olympic staff and volunteers for a month as part of its zero-Covid policy ahead of next month’s Games.
Starting Tuesday, thousands of Games-related staff, volunteers, cleaners, cooks and coach drivers will be cocooned for weeks in the so-called ‘closed loop’ with no direct physical access to the outside world.
The February 4-20 Winter Olympics and subsequent Paralympics in China, where the virus emerged toward the end of 2019, will be the world’s strictest mass sporting event since the global pandemic.
The measures contrast with the Covid-delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics, which allowed some movement in and out for volunteers and other personnel.
The global media and roughly 3,000 athletes are expected to start arriving in the Chinese capital in the weeks ahead and will remain in the bubble from the moment they land until they leave the country.
Anyone entering the bubble must be fully vaccinated or face a 21-day quarantine when they touch down, and everyone inside will be tested daily and must wear face masks at all times.
In an interview with AFP last Friday, Zhao Weidong, head of the Olympic organising committee’s media department, said Beijing was ‘fully prepared’.
‘Hotels, transportation, accommodation, as well as our science and technology-led Winter Olympics projects are all ready,’ Zhao said.
Fans will not be part of the ‘closed loop,’ and organisers will have to ensure that they do not mingle with athletes and others inside the bubble.
People who live in China must also quarantine upon leaving the bubble to return home.
The system includes dedicated transport between venues, with even ‘closed-loop’ high-speed rail systems operating in parallel to those open to the public.
It is set to be operating well into late March and possibly early April.
AFP reporters outside venues in Beijing saw workers erecting wire fences and security guards standing by in the winter chill.
Most major venues are outside of the capital.
But foreign diplomats in China have told AFP that the measures look to be so impregnable that they worry they will not be able to offer proper help to their nationals inside the bubble.
Reporting by AFP
A resident surnamed Wang told Radio Free Asia: ‘People are swapping stuff with others in the same building, because they no longer have enough food to eat.’
The outlet described desperate swaps including a man who tried to trade a smartphone and tablet for rice.
A Weibo user branded the swaps a ‘return to primitive society’ and said ‘helpless citizens’ were exchanging ‘potatoes for cotton swabs’.
It comes after Yuzhou, a city in Henan province, announced that from Monday night all citizens were required to stay home to control the spread of the virus.
The announcement was triggered by the discovery of three cases in the last couple of days.
People in the central area ‘must not go out’, according to a statement posted Monday, while all communities will set up ‘sentinels and gates to strictly implement epidemic prevention and control measures’.
The city had already announced that it was halting bus and taxi services and closing shopping malls, museums and tourist attractions.
China reported another 175 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, including five in Henan province and eight more in a separate cluster linked to a garment factory in the eastern city of Ningbo.
Although the reported cases are low compared with elsewhere in the world, new coronavirus infections in recent weeks have reached a high not seen in the country since March 2020.
There were 95 fresh cases recorded in Xi’an Tuesday – a historic city of 13 million people in neighbouring Shaanxi province – which has been under lockdown for nearly two weeks.
Local authorities deemed to have failed in preventing virus outbreaks in China are often fired or punished, prompting a series of ever-stricter responses from provincial governments as they try to stamp out any cases quickly.
In Xi’an, two senior Communist Party officials in the northern city were removed from their posts over their ‘insufficient rigour in preventing and controlling the outbreak’.
And last month, China’s disciplinary body announced that dozens of officials were punished for failure to prevent the outbreak in the city.
In the latest shocking measure, 30 busses turned up in Xian’s Mingde 8 Yingli neighborhood at just after midnight on January 1 and turfed 1,000 people out of their homes and carted them off to grim quarantine facilities, according to local reports.
Pictures uploaded to Chinese social media site Weibo showed health officials in full PPE standing beside a convoy of busses flanked by police cars.
One user claimed that up to 1,000 people were carted off, while another said that 30 busses were spotted around their block.
Further images posted online purported to show the austere living quarters inside the quarantine facilities, with cheap bunk beds and tiny desks.
Others claimed that the rooms were cold and that the officials had not made proper arrangements for accommodated children and elderly people.
‘There is nothing here, just basic necessities… Nobody has come to check up on us, what kind of quarantine is this? They did a big transfer of us, more than a thousand people, in the night and many of us are elderly people and children. They didn’t make any proper arrangements and so they just carelessly placed us [here],’ read one comment posted by an affected resident.
It is just the latest incident in the locked-down city to spark fury online amid claims that residents have been left to starve shut up in their homes because authorities have failed to bring them food.
Health officials in full PPE stand beside busses and police cars in pictures uploaded to Chinese social media site Weibo from Xian
A line of busses are seen surrounding the block during the quarantining in Xian, left; and residents are escorted from their homes with luggage prepared for their quarantine, right
Officials admitted at a press conference last week that ‘low staff attendance and difficulties in logistics and distribution’ had led to trouble providing essential supplies to the populace.
‘I’m about to be starved to death,’ wrote one person on Weibo last week. ‘There’s no food, my housing compound won’t let me out, and I’m about to run out of instant noodles … please help!’
‘I don’t want to hear anymore about how everything is fine,’ said another. ‘So what if supplies are so abundant – they’re useless if you don’t actually give them to people.’
Xian official Chen Jianfeng told reporters that the local government had mobilised enterprises to step up community distribution, with cadres supervising wholesale markets and supermarkets.
‘We’re trying our best to assist in the problem of staff turnout, and are issuing passes for vehicles that guarantee the supply of necessities,’ he said.
Xian reported a paltry 90 new local virus cases on Monday, down from 122 cases a day before.
‘We have entered a general state of attack,’ said provincial official Liu Guozhong according to an official notice, adding that it was necessary to achieve the goal of clearing society of coronavirus cases as soon as possible.
Pictures posted online purported to show the austere living quarters inside the quarantine facilities, with cheap bunk beds
The grim furniture of the quarantine facilities in Xian
On Sunday, Xian announced that two senior Communist Party officials from the Yanta district had been removed from their posts, according to local media, in a bid to ‘strengthen the work of epidemic prevention and control’ in the area.
China reported a total of 161 cases, with the majority in Shaanxi province, where Xian is the capital.
There were no new fatalities, leaving the death toll unchanged at 4,636.
A medical worker tests a resident in Xian on Sunday
Two workers cross the roads in the deserted city of Xian on December 31
A truck sprays disinfectant on street in Xi’an in China’s northern Shaanxi province on December 31