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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

入冬以來全國疫情此起彼伏,病毒確實防不勝防,內地有一套成熟的追蹤、篩查、隔離手段,能將疫情一一控制,唯獨西安失守而需要封城17天,原因是官員麻痹大意,進退失據。

2019年末出現新冠疫情,武漢封城86天,及後較大規模的爆發是廣州,需時45天清零,西安是第二個全城封閉的大城市,至今已經17天,但8號的感染個案已經下跌到30宗,開城日期指日可待。

西安新一輪疫情源頭也是外來輸入在隔離酒店漏到社區,似乎是去年5月份廣州疫情的翻版,由於廣州發現首宗個案是源頭不明,未能及時採取措施而在社區擴散。廣州控制疫情的手段是從過往其他城市摸索出來的一套,全民檢測,局部封城,追蹤源頭,分區多次檢測篩查,截斷傳播鏈,由於各種手段都做得比較徹底,形成一套「廣州經驗」。為什麼這套做法在西安失靈呢?

西安這次疫情同樣是在社區爆發了而「後知後覺」,原因很可能是因為官員麻痹大意。西安在9月份舉行過全國運動會,來自四面八方的大量運動員及觀眾,各種大規模聚集近3周而平安無事,西安官員以為從此高枕無憂。外來輸入個案流入社區的例子,全國不斷重複發生,惟發現後果斷採取措施也不至於一發不可收拾,但西安官員的做法,卻是遲遲不動手,而且還封區後未徹底清零前又放開,導致再封區已無補於事。

西安人口1300萬,封城會導致經濟活動凍結,市民生活停頓,茲事體大,但每日感染人數不斷增加,不封城不但不能徹底解決西安疫情,感染患者外溢更會使全國殃及池魚。其他城市封城或封區,對於市民生活所需的供應和物流,也有一套做法以資借鑑。但西安卻出現很多本可以避免的甩漏,比如健康碼系統兩次崩潰,市民無法做核酸檢測。市政府立即將大數據資源管理局局長停職,然而,有一些失誤導致的損失是無法挽回的。

最新一個大規模感染的城市有可能是天津,雖然目前發生的病例只有20宗,但其中兩例是Omicron變種病毒,而且患者有眾多小孩是在託管班受感染。新的情况又有可能令過去行之有效的應對措施部分失靈,官員如何在防控措施中考慮到百姓福祉,西安的教訓言猶在耳。

■/ 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

■英語社評聲檔:link.mingpao.com/53000.htm

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