Public Health

What occurred when a Chinese language metropolis was shut down after the brand new Covid outbreak?

Volunteers in protective suits disinfect in a residential area of ​​Tonghua, China on January 24, 2021.

Visual China Group | Getty Images

BEIJING – A small Chinese town’s rush to control coronavirus has left some residents without food and some officials without work.

The fallout shows the extreme lengths to which the local Chinese authorities will attempt to contain the coronavirus. While the number of new cases in China this year is far below those in other countries, the strict preventive measures can quickly lead to major disruptions in work and daily life.

After a spike in Covid-19 cases in mid-January, the city of Tonghua, about a 10-hour drive northeast of Beijing, announced on Wednesday that no one could leave the city. Authorities added that all of the apartment complexes were essentially locked.

The folks who stuck home and had little time to get groceries turned to smartphone-based delivery apps, but many complained online that they couldn’t get their orders, according to the posts on Weibo, China’s version from Twitter.

On Saturday, the Communist Party’s local Disciplinary and Inspection Commission fired three officials for their poor performance in monitoring the pandemic situation, state media said. Eleven other officers received severe warnings, the report said.

On Sunday, Tonghua City apologized to its 500,000 residents for the “untimely” delivery of daily necessities and general inconvenience. The city added there was a severe labor shortage but sufficient food.

More than 11,000 people left mostly angry comments in a national state media post, apologizing for Weibo. Some users described how they or neighbors were starving and not receiving their orders for three or four days.

Many user comments found that Eleme, an Alibaba-supported grocery delivery app, cannot be ordered. The company did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Nasdaq-listed Dada, a food company that saw growth spurt during the lockdown of the first coronavirus outbreak last year, said none of its two apps operate in the city of Tonghua.

Covid-19 first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. Chinese authorities closed more than half the country in February 2020, and the outbreak stalled domestically within weeks. Meanwhile, the virus accelerated its spread overseas in a global pandemic.

New domestic cases have emerged in China in the past two months with cold winter weather and a sustained number of overseas visitors. Northeastern Jilin Province, where Tonghua City is located, is the third most severely affected region. In January alone, 273 new confirmed coronavirus cases were reported.

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