When Lockdown Kills More than Covid

Warning: Graphic Images Included

Even in my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined how China still hasn’t learned its lesson three years into the pandemic.

Resentment among Chinese citizens has reached a boiling point. On the evening of Nov. 24, a fire devoured three floors of an apartment building taking 10 lives in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang. Firefighters were unable to access the building in time due to barricades erected for lockdown after positive Covid cases were tested in the area. Fire lanes were blocked by parked cars with dead batteries whose owners were in quarantine for long periods of time. Fences obstructed the entrance to this building and even room doors were barricaded by authorities with metal wires. 

All of these practices may seem terrifying to you, but they have been the daily lives of many Chinese people. They are justified by China’s ongoing “Zero-Covid” policy, representing the eradication of Covid at any cost. 

This is not the first time such secondary disasters have happened. On Nov. 4, a 55-year-old mother committed suicide by jumping off her balcony in Huhhot, Inner Mongolia. Her daughter was unable to be by her side due to a blocked exit locked from outside. The mother was wearing her mask until the very last second of her life — it had become her instinct. It took 30 minutes until the exit was opened and 40 minutes until an ambulance arrived. Could she have been saved without these hurdles on the track of life? We will never know.

Three days prior in Lanzhou, a three-year-old boy died from carbon monoxide intoxication. His father called EMS six times in an hour with no success, before finally breaking through a Covid checkpoint, under neighbors’ assistance, and sending him to a hospital. But it was already too late, a little boy, as old as Covid itself, never lived to see the light of dawn.

On Jan. 1, an eight-month-pregnant lady was refused admission by a hospital. After failing to reach EMS, she was transported to the hospital by police, where she was further denied entry for two hours due to her latest PCR test result which had expired only four hours prior, causing heavy bleeding, and eventually a miscarriage.

The list goes on and on. But I must pause here for there is one thing critical demanding our attention: the institutional cause behind these tragedies. What makes such an evil system possible? 

Under the Zero-Covid policy, government officials face an enormous amount of risk if their jurisdiction tests positive cases. They will be heavily penalized and lose their political career. Under such conditions, it is not strange how they prioritize lockdowns over literal human lives. Some local officials even started “competing” with their colleagues to see who can impose harsher restrictions.

Rebellions have been made, and this article will be one of them. On Oct. 13, two banners were hung on Sitong Bring, a busy overpass in Beijing, protesting endless PCR tests, arbitrary lockdowns and Xi Jinping’s third term the day after CCP’s political conference’s conclusion. 

Protests with such blatant expression are extraordinarily rare and swiftly censored in China. Nonetheless, posters and slogans in support of it have emerged in numerous western colleges and universities with Chinese students since then. The aforementioned apartment fire further fueled resentment and finally resulted in domestic demonstrations nationwide, on a scale unprecedented since Tiananmen Square. 

Protestors dismantled lockdown barriers that have encircled them for months, overturned PCR testing booths, and hosted memorial events despite police crackdown. College students, a majority of whom have never experienced life outside their school because of lockdowns, gathered together demanding freedom and democracy. 

The Chinese society at large is undergoing its first lesson in civil rights, thanks to the government’s incompetence, complacency, and ignorance. These protests could live a dazzling but transient life and get swept away into the dustbin of history like 1989; or it could be the start of something truly memorable and glorious — the first irreparable crack in the Chinese ruling institution.

It is time to remind ourselves of the message displayed on Sitong Bridge, for it has been echoed throughout these protests:

Food NOT PCR Tests 不要核酸要吃饭

Freedom NOT Lockdown 不要封控要自由

Dignity NOT Lies 不要谎言要尊严

Reform NOT Regression 不要文革要改革

Elections NOT Dictatorship 不要领袖要选票

Citizens NOT Slaves 不做奴才做公民