January 21, 2022
Outcry over Xi’an lockdown tests limits of China’s zero-Covid policy

Outcry over Xi’an lockdown tests limits of China’s zero-Covid policy

For residents in China’s northwestern city of Xi’an, the start of 2022 is looking a lot like 2020 — only worse.

Since December, the ancient city known as the home of the Terracotta Warriors has been grappling with China’s largest community coronavirus outbreak since Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic. To date, more than 1,600 cases have been reported in the city. While the number pales in comparison to those in many other countries, the outbreak pushed China’s caseload in the final week of 2021 to the highest level since March 2020.

For 12 days and counting, Xi’an’s 13 million residents have been confined to their homes. The city, formerly a tourist hotspot, welcomed the new year with deserted streets, shuttered stores, sealed-off residential compounds and an empty airport. The lockdown is the strictest and largest since Wuhan, which sealed off 11 million people in early 2020. But it is also among the most chaotic, leaving residents short of food and other essential supplies and affecting access to medical services.

A groundswell of anger and frustration at the local government has ensued, underscoring the growing challenge facing China’s zero-Covid policy, which relies on a playbook of mass testing, extensive quarantines and snap lockdowns to stamp out any resurgence of the virus. For almost two years, these stringent measures have shielded the majority of the country from the worst aspects of the pandemic, winning overwhelming public support. But as local outbreaks continue to flare up, the outcry in Xi’an raises the question of just how long zero-Covid can be sustained before public support begins to taper off, with millions of residents trapped in an seemingly endless cycle of lockdowns.