Residents of a locked-down Chinese city have raised an outcry about food and medicine shortages, spurring a rare public debate about the country’s strict epidemic controls.
Citizens in Tonghua, near China’s border with North Korea in northeastern Jilin province, complained on blogging platform Weibo that a sudden lockdown has left some trapped in their apartments without supplies for more than a week.
“We Tonghua people weren’t knocked down by the virus . . . but by hunger and basic illnesses,” wrote one blogger.
“Is there any way of buying insulin? There’s a diabetic in the household who hasn’t had medicine for 10 days, what happens if someone dies?” asked another.
China has had a relatively low incidence of Covid-19 but local governments have periodically implemented strict lockdowns to control small and recurrent outbreaks.
While citizens have broadly accepted the government’s efforts to control the virus, the Tonghua lockdown has sparked a rare backlash online.
On Monday, the city began its third round of compulsory Covid-19 RNA testing. The city is the site of one of China’s biggest outbreaks, with 202 confirmed cases as of Tuesday. Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province bordering Beijing, has the country’s biggest outbreak with 746 confirmed cases.
Kelly Liu, a 35-year-old Tonghua resident, told the Financial Times that she and her parents had been living off pickles and peanuts for the past three days.
“This is the first time I’ve experienced what it feels like to go so hungry,” Ms Liu said. On Monday, she received her first government package of vegetables since the lockdown but said it would probably only last about a day.
Ms Liu had bought groceries the day before her area was locked down but she did not buy much. “Because at that time, the government and official channels were making it appear like there wasn’t an issue, asking everyone not to hoard,” she said.
Facing public outrage, Jiang Haiyan, Tonghua’s deputy mayor, apologised on Sunday for the late deliveries of necessities. Ms Jiang said the government had established volunteer teams to help.
On Monday night, Tonghua mayor Li Ping, who was asked on state television CCTV about the shortages, said the high volume of orders had caused online delivery platforms to fail.
He added that “because we enacted serious lockdown controls, some community workers were also locked inside, so we didn’t have enough people to deliver things”.
Commenters have drawn parallels to the early mismanagement of last year’s outbreak in Wuhan that marked the start of the pandemic.
On Sunday, Communist party mouthpiece the People’s Daily posted an interview on Weibo with the Tonghua epidemic control unit, which said that reserves of groceries and necessities were “sufficient, and there is no shortage”.
“Makes me think of how at the beginning, Wuhan’s hospitals and hospital head also said there was no shortage of supplies,” said the top-voted comment under the People’s Daily post.
Some residents left messages asking Wuhan diarist Fang Fang to share their posts, according to anticensorship platform China Digital Times.
The writer has faced a nationalist backlash for “handing a knife” to overseas critics of China with her frank portrayal of Wuhan’s problems during lockdown.
Additional reporting by Qianer Liu in Shenzhen