Officials in the northern Chinese city of Xi’an on Tuesday banned “negative news” on social media about the city’s strict coronavirus lockdown, which has millions of residents on the verge of starvation and has killed at least two people.
The municipal government menacingly reminded its desperate citizens they are under constant electronic surveillance.
Xi’an’s population of about 13 million has been under strict lockdown since a cluster of coronavirus cases was detected two weeks ago.
As always, Chinese Communist claims of coronavirus case numbers and fatalities should never be taken at face value, but local officials say this horrific lockdown – complete with a bizarre theatrical chemical disinfection of the entire city – was imposed because of 143 infections. The most recent update counted 1,600 cases in the city, but insisted there have been no fatalities.
City residents reported severe shortages of food and supplies as the lockdown wore on, posting on social media that they were forbidden to leave their homes even for groceries. Complaints turned to pleas for help – and then accusations that city officials did not make adequate preparations for the lockdown, more manpower was devoted to policing the population than feeding them, and Communist Party officials appeared to be enjoying shipments of food while the public was left to starve.
This growing unrest exploded into outrage, both in Xi’an and across China, when two deaths were reported on social media: a baby who died in a miscarriage after the mother was denied hospital care pending the results of a coronavirus test, and an older man who died of a heart attack while his frantic daughter raced from one medical facility to the next, pleading with doctors to save him.
“I kept thinking, if I had been more uncooperative, screaming and crying to make a scene, would the hospital have admitted my father? But there’s no ‘if’. One month after my father turned 61, I lost him forever,” the grieving daughter wrote in a Wednesday post on Weibo, China’s version of banned Twitter.
After these outrageous stories went viral, Xi’an officials leaped into action – by silencing their captive citizens and threatening punishment if any more “negative” stories escape into social media.
“From Jan. 4, people are banned from posting details of the pandemic restrictions or information about the road situation, videos, links, mini-apps or photos of the situation, particularly negative news,” the municipal government said in a text message to all 13 million inhabitants.
“There is background surveillance operating on all WeChat groups, and any negative news will be deleted as soon as it is sent. Please bear this in mind and pass the message on,” the message added ominously.
Xi’an residents told Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Wednesday the incident with the man dying of a heart attack rattled the local government badly enough to bring down the iron curtain. Officials were already nervous about growing unrest over food shortages and public backlash against some ham-fisted efforts to stage Communist Party photo ops, such as a goon squad handing out tiny handfuls of food to residents while instructing them to look into the cameras with big smiles and thank the benevolent government for feeding them.
“It’s pretty clear now what the government is doing. Now, if people are hungry, they’re not allowed to say so,” said one disgusted woman. “This isn’t a place fit for humans to live, where they won’t even let sick people seek medical treatment, or give birth — that’s how they treat people in a pandemic.”