Chinese city accused of ‘performative lockdown lifting’

Authorities in Zhengzhou have been accused of “performative lockdown lifting” after they partially lifted restrictions amid growing pressure from residents and the reported arrival of state media.

An almost month-long lockdown in the Chinese city of about 12 million people had prompted complaints of arduous conditions, sometimes violent enforcement, inadequate medical care, and worsening mental health. But a sudden decision to ease restrictions on Tuesday was greeted by some residents with scepticism and anger.

Zhengzhou has been the subject of national focus, particularly after hundreds of workers from the iPhone manufacturer Foxconn fled over fences from the factory’s “closed loop” quarantine system last week.

On social media, residents accused authorities of lifting restrictions only to reduce scrutiny of the lockdown’s severity and associated issues. The term “performative lockdown lifting” was widely used on Weibo, but was unsearchable as a hashtag, suggesting it had been blocked. On Weibo and private WeChat circles, screenshots that showed a shopping mall had reopened on Tuesday and workers ordered to be present were shared widely by people who said their own communities remained locked up.

They also shared images appearing to show state-run CCTV news employees interviewing members of the public, and appeared to connect the scenes.

“It is because of you that our neighbourhoods get unsealed,” one resident posted to CCTV’s social media account. “Zhengzhou welcomes you to do interviews here.”

“CCTV news, the Zhengzhou government is playing you. Zhengzhou’s lockdown was not lifted,” said another.

Another addressed local authorities: “You end the lockdown when the CCTV supervision team comes, does it mean you will lock us down again as soon as they leave?”

Zhengzhou’s restrictions have been in place since early October, despite reported case numbers in the whole of Henan province hovering around 20-30 daily, and not exceeding 55. On Monday, the day before restrictions eased, the national health commission reported a sudden jump of 104 cases, amid more than 2,000 nationally.

Under the restrictions, residents were required to get a daily PCR test, with some communities locked down over a single case. Non-essential businesses and dine-in services were suspended and schooling was moved online. In some districts, only one member of a households was allowed to go outside each day for essential reasons.

Zhengzhou residents have expressed frustration and anger at the ongoing lockdown. Messages from private WeChat circles accused local hospitals of turning patients away amid inconsistent policies.

“Hospitals didn’t accept patients for days, and they only changed that after civil servants went back to work,” said one resident.

“Secondary disasters are ignored,” said another in a discussion that also claimed there had been recent suicides.

Residents in Zhengzhou clash with Covid enforcement officers as lockdown frustrations rise – video

One video shot from a rooftop appeared to show community workers – civilian Covid response employees – fighting with two residents. A worker can be seen throwing a woman to the ground where she appears to hit her head, and then kicking her in the side. Nearby other workers are seen punching a man on the ground. A video of the same incident filmed from the ground showed an escalating argument between residents and the workers. They shout about the alleged assault as well as failures to deliver medications, and accuse building officials of deleting their contacts from WeChat after asking questions.

The Guardian has not been able to independently verify the footage.

Others said they lived in the areas identified for eased restrictions, but that those in charge of their housing communities were not allowing them to leave. One clip purportedly filmed on Tuesday and shared online was taken by a man who becomes increasingly angry, kicking the locked gate of the community he is inside as an impassive security guardwalks away.

“Come and see this, they still won’t let us out,” the man said. “So many people are gathering here and nobody speaks. The Zhengzhou official government account has said that the lockdown ends this morning at 6am, but you still won’t let us out. Why not let us out?”

China’s Covid numbers are relatively low, but the government remains committed to containing and eliminating every outbreak. The initially successful strategy has been challenged by more infectious newer variants, and has caused distress and some protest among citizens. Local officials are under pressure – and threat of punishment – to contain outbreaks without veering into overzealous restrictions.

Successive lockdowns have been plagued by complaints of food shortages, restricted access to medical care, and indifference to mental health. Hundreds of lockdowns are in place across China, affecting hundreds of millions of people, under the policy. In Xinjiang and Tibet, people have been held under even tougher restrictions for several months, with little detailed information getting out of the high securitised regions.

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