Netizen Voices: “All The Young People Have Fled” Dandong’s Interminable Lockdowns

Dandong has been under intermittent lockdown (“static management” in the municipal government’s preferred euphemism) since April 25 of this year. The northeast city bordering North Korea is but the latest frontier town to bear the brunt of the central government’s strict coronavirus controls. Restrictions on freedom of movement have led to a host of now-familiar crises: delayed medical care for non-COVID-related diseases, conflict between lockdown enforcers and residents, and economic stagnation. Global Times provided an overview of the “grim and complex” situation in Dandong, which despite a partial re-opening, still faces the risk of a rebound in case numbers: 

As China’s biggest border city with a population of 2.3 million as of 2020, Dandong reported seven new local asymptomatic infections on Saturday, bringing the tally of positive cases to 264 since May 24.

[…] The risk of a large-scale rebound of epidemic still exists since most of the sporadic cases are spreading from unknown sources, making the epidemic prevention situation grim and complex, explained Liu Yang, another expert from the city’s epidemic prevention and control headquarters and deputy director of Dandong Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

[…] At present, residents in the preventive area are asked to take two nucleic acid tests every week and residents in downtown areas have to take nucleic acid testing every […] other day. People and residents in lockdown and control zones have to take testing once every day. 

While the source of new infections in Dandong remains unknown, Dandong officials suspect it is tied to the outbreak in neighboring North Korea. In May, North Korea publicly acknowledged the presence of the coronavirus within its borders for the first time. China had reopened a cross-border railway link in January after a two-year hiatus, but closed it again in April after new cases cropped up. Chinese officials have posited that the new cases might be the product of southerly winds blowing the virus across the Yalu River and infecting residents through open windows. City officials have placed air measuring devices along the Chinese bank of the river in an ostensible effort to detect windborne viruses. Persistent cross-border smuggling of goods and people is a much likelier culprit. The city’s inability to identify the source of the virus and the length of the lockdown prompted Dandong’s mayor to issue a rare public apology, labeling his government’s work “unsatisfactory” and promising “more proactive, more active and more effective” efforts in the future. 

The long lockdown has led to a number of clashes between residents and pandemic policy enforcers. In one viral incident, an elderly father and his daughter were arrested for assault after the father slapped a police officer who detained them en route to a hospital, where they had hoped to pick up the father’s medicine for a non-COVID-related disease. The daughter had a yellow health code, which generally requires one to quarantine at home, but she had received special permission from her neighborhood committee to drive her father to the hospital. 

Similar incidents have occured during other lockdowns across China. In January, during the Xi’an lockdown, a pregnant woman miscarried in an emergency room lobby after she was denied treatment because she could not provide proof of a recent negative COVID test. During the Shanghai lockdown, an off-duty nurse suffering from an asthma attack was denied treatment for the same reason; she died en route to a second hospital. CNN’s Simone McCarthy reported on the Dandong father-daughter incident and its aftermath:

In a statement Wednesday, a day after the incident, local police said they had issued Hao a 10-day administrative detention for obstructing their work, while her father had received a “criminal compulsory measure” — that could result in further charges, according to state media — on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.”

[…] Hao also responded publicly after the incident, explaining in a widely shared social media video that she was driving to pick up a difficult-to-find medicine for her father, who was recovering from surgery and suffered from a form of neuralgia.

“With this kind of pain, he can’t eat, he can’t talk, he can’t sleep,” she said. “Who said a yellow code can’t pass? If that’s the case sick people can only wait there and die?” 

The video of the Dandong altercation went viral on Chinese social media. On Li Wenliang’s “Wailing Wall,” one Weibo user wrote, “Dr. Li, I couldn’t stand to watch all of that video from Dandong … It’s getting too hard to live.” Another now-removed WeChat post likened the incident to a recent scandal in which Henan officials manipulated out-of-province depositors’ health codes when they attempted to travel to the province to demand that insolvent local banks return their funds. The writer of the post encouraged people to photoshop their health codes rather than risk a fight with the police: “My proof is this: not a single one of those three officials in Zhengzhou who gave 1,317 depositors red health codes was sentenced to prison. If we adhere to this standard, citizens who photoshop yellow codes into green codes, especially for a good reason like seeing the doctor, shouldn’t be dealt with too harshly. (I’m just joking, don’t take this seriously.)” An editorial in Global Times that the “police-resident friction” should prompt reflection on “how to conduct law enforcement more humanely.”

Such conflicts are, in part, a result of the fractured nature of China’s pandemic policy enforcement. A vast array of bureaucracies are tasked with enforcing policies that are, all too often, vaguely defined: neighborhood committees control the flow of movement into and out of residential compounds, private testing companies process the all-important nucleic acid tests, municipal health commissions run quarantine sites, police and the oft-maligned “Epidemic Prevention Hobbyists” man checkpoints. The result is that permission to travel granted by one authority may not be recognized by another. In extreme cases, authorities battle one another for control, as seen in another viral incident in which a pandemic enforcement volunteer attempted to detain policemen at a coronavirus checkpoint because he did not accept the validity of their travel documents. CDT has translated a portion of the argument that ensued

Policeman One: Didn’t you just say how great we policemen are? And now you want to impound our vehicle?

Pandemic Enforcement Volunteer: I don’t know that you’re all that great! [inaudible]


Police Officer One: First, let’s set the record straight on [the limits of] your authority. Do you have the authority to enforce the law?

Pandemic Enforcement Volunteer: [inaudible] The government has granted me [the authority]! Pandemic prevention policy prescribes these checkpoints, so how’dya like that? 

Stories of pandemic control overreach, manipulation, and abuse are not uncommon. In an account of life under lockdown published on WeChat by the influential Sanlian Lifeweek Magazine, one resident wrote that a blogger with some online cachet was permitted to quarantine at home while their neighbors were “hauled off” to centralized quarantine. Residents in some cities have taken to the streets to demand an end to the lockdown. Many more have taken to Weibo to voice their suffering under lockdown:

仿生人也会弹舌吗:What’re they doing? Are they even up to the task? It hasn’t been that long since the founding of the PRC, but just look at all these nauseating spectacles! It’s terrifying that the government has atrophied to this degree.

加速度-唐门:@Dandong **** me! How much longer will the lockdown be? Will the lockdown only end once you’ve killed all of us ordinary folks?

本帅帅并不需要昵称:#DandongPandemic# This first started trending during the Shanghai lockdown. Now Shanghai has opened up, but this hashtag remains. What’s the local government doing? The government has spent the last year burning through all the trust it earned over the past few decades. The officials, who serve for money or fame, have destroyed every last city, every last province, and harmed not just the people of this city, but the citizens of the entire country. This isn’t pandemic prevention. This isn’t following Party policy. This is treason.

inneverland:All the young people have fled. Who’d want to stay in this dying place?

爆炸的鳄鱼:There are no other explanations. The reason they can’t eradicate it is because it’s a virus. They’d be better off employing that same “eradication mentality” to the “Sweep Away Black” campaign or to [stopping] the trafficking of women and children.

纡余予彧:Whole-process People’s Democracy. Dandong’s residents must be choosing to lock themselves into their homes. 

As in Shanghai, where searches for “runology” and emigration services skyrocketed after the lockdown, Dandong is facing a potential exodus when its lockdown ends. Dandong city officials criticized those planning to leave, likening them to children who would abandon their mother if she fell sick. One netizen’s saucy rebuttal went viral: “My mom doesn’t fake being sick.”

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