Editorial:Failures of Xi'an Officials Are a Lesson to Learn

【明報專訊】Since the beginning of winter, China has seen a Whac-A-Mole pandemic situation. The COVID-19 virus is beyond the best preventive efforts. The mainland has a sophisticated set of tracking, screening, and isolation measures capable of controlling outbreaks one by one. Xi'an is the only city that has fallen and has thus been put in lockdown, which has lasted for 17 days now (10 January). The reason is that government officials have been insensible, sloppy and at a loss what to do next.

At the end of 2019, the COVID-19 epidemic occurred, and Wuhan went into lockdown for 86 days. A larger outbreak happened afterwards in Guangzhou, and it took 45 days to bring case numbers down to zero again. Xi'an is the second big city to be placed in a lockdown so far. 17 days have now passed. However, by the 8th of this month the number of cases had already dropped to 30. The day of lifting the lockdown is now in sight.

Xi'an's latest wave of the pandemic also originated from imported cases, as the virus found its way from a quarantine hotel into the community in what appeared to be a repeat of the outbreak in Guangzhou last May. Back then, the first case discovered in Guangzhou was of unknown origin, and measures were not taken in time to prevent the spread of the virus into the community. The methods used in Guangzhou to rein in the outbreak were products of trial and error in other cities. They included city-wide testing, partial lockdowns, the tracing of the source of infection, multiple tests in different districts and the cut-off of the chains of transmission. These measures were conducted relatively radically and were thus summed up as the ''Guangzhou experience''. Why did the approach fail in Xi'an?

The community outbreak of COVID-19 in Xi'an also happened without people being aware of it. In all likelihood, that was due to the insensitivity and sloppiness of government officials. Xi'an held the National Games in September last year. Athletes and spectators from all over the nation gathered in various large crowds for nearly three weeks, and nothing untoward happened. Xi'an officials thought that they could sit back and relax. It has been a frequent occurrence in China that imported cases have made their way into the community. However, things have not really spiralled out of control after drastic measures were taken following the discoveries. Still, Xi'an officials postponed action until very late, and districts originally in lockdown were even reopened while cases had yet to be brought to zero. That was why a later move to place those districts in lockdown again did not help matters.

Xi'an has a population of 13 million. Shutting down the city will lead to a freeze on economic activities and the suspension of citizens' daily routines. This is a serious matter. However, as the number of infected people continues to increase every day, a decision against imposing lockdown would not only make it impossible to completely resolve the pandemic situation in Xi'an, but would also cause a spillover of infected patients, which would be a disaster for the whole country. When lockdowns are imposed in other cities or districts, there are various sets of practices for the logistics of supplying daily necessities to citizens, which Xi'an could reference. But in Xi'an, there had been many avoidable errors. For example, the health code system was down twice, and citizens were unable to take nucleic acid tests. The municipal government immediately suspended the director of the Big Data Resources Administration. However, some losses caused by the mistakes are irredeemable.

The next city with potentially large-scale infections may likely be Tianjin. Although there have been only 20 cases so far, two of them involve the Omicron variant, and many children of the patients were infected in nursing classes. The new situation may render some of the measures that worked in the past ineffective. How can government officials factor in the well-being of the people in their considerations of prevention and control measures? The lesson of Xi'an is still ringing in the ears.

明報社評 2022.1.10:西安官員失職言猶在耳 人民至上並非空喊口號







■/ Glossary 生字 /

spiral:a continuous harmful increase or decrease in sth, that gradually gets faster and faster

spillover:sth that is too large or too much for the place where it starts, and spreads to other places

irredeemable:too bad to be corrected, improved or saved


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