Locals Skeptical as Chinese Authorities Claim No New Virus Cases, Issue Strict Containment Measures

Locals Skeptical as Chinese Authorities Claim No New Virus Cases, Issue Strict Containment Measures
A health worker takes a swab from a resident for COVID-19 nucleic acid test following a new outbreak of the coronavirus in Qingdao, eastern China's Shandong Province on Oct. 13, 2020. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Nicole Hao

Authorities at the epicenter of China’s latest COVID-19 outbreak claimed on Oct. 15 that they have found no new infections after testing 8.8 million residents.

But local residents expressed skepticism, as Beijing dispatched medical experts to the coastal city of Qingdao on Oct. 14 and two officials were dismissed for mishandling the outbreak.

Beijing city ordered on Oct. 14 that Qingdao residents should avoid visiting the capital in coming days. Anyone who wishes to visit must present a negative nucleic acid test result from within the previous seven days, as well as an app-generated health QR code that is green—which means the person is free of the virus.
“I don’t believe the scale of the outbreak that authorities announced. I don’t trust the test kits’ quality and accuracy,” a Qingdao resident surnamed Tai said in a recent phone interview. Fearing reprisals for speaking to foreign media, Tai chose to only identify himself by his last name.
“The situation in China is that government officials will be dismissed once they report more infections. They underreport the scale and quarantine the people who might be infected.”

Testing, Dismissals

During a press conference on Oct. 15, city officials urged residents to avoid making any travel plans unless it is an emergency.

Qingdao Deputy Mayor Luan Xin said that all 8.8 million samples tested negative. The city also expanded the scope of testing beyond residents of high-risk areas to all city residents; 10.47 million samples have been collected so far. The city’s total population is about 11 million.

Luan also claimed that there have been no new infections since Oct. 12, with a total of only 13 diagnosed patients thus far.

She also said authorities dismissed two officials who didn’t “perform well” in dealing with the outbreak. They are the Chinese Communist Party boss and director of Qingdao health commission, Sui Zhenhua, and deputy Party boss and director of the Qingdao Chest Hospital, Deng Kai.

Sui was dismissed on Oct. 14, and Deng was dismissed the next day.

Authorities have said most of those who are infected contracted the virus at the Chest Hospital.

Strict Measures

At the Oct. 14 press conference, deputy director of the city government’s office, Chen Wansheng, announced that the central government had sent to Qingdao eight experts in the fields of respiratory, infectious disease, critical patients’ care, and traditional Chinese medicine to guide local medical staff.

The health commission in Shandong Province, where Qingdao, also sent nine tuberculosis specialists to the city, Chen added. He explained that seven of the COVID-19 patients had tuberculosis and were being treated for the illness at the Chest Hospital at the time they were diagnosed with COVID.

Chen also said the National Health Commission “urgently” shipped 9,000 milliliters (19 pints) of convalescent plasma that contained antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients, to treat Qingdao patients in severe condition.

Other Chinese cities reacted to the outbreak by forcing all residents who had visited Qingdao recently to take COVID-19 tests. Travelers who had specifically been to the Shibei and Licang districts, where some of the diagnosed patients live, would be sent to quarantine centers directly.

Li Ling (a pseudonym) is from southern China’s Guangzhou city. She visited Qingdao with her family as tourists from Oct. 5 to 9, during the National Day holiday. On Oct. 12, Li and her family members took and paid for nucleic acid tests, which all turned up negative.

However, early on Oct. 13, the Guangzhou government forced Li to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days, at a cost to her of 4,032 yuan ($600) for the stay, plus meal costs. However, her husband wasn't required to quarantine.

Li told The Epoch Times in a phone interview she saw that three other Guangzhou residents who had recently visited Qingdao were forced to quarantine at the same hotel.

“We [four people] refused to check into the quarantine hotel that was too expensive. They [local officials] didn’t allow us to buy or eat food until past 5 p.m., after we agreed to check into a cheaper quarantine hotel,” Li said. “I feel helpless and innocent. I can’t work for 14 days and have to pay for the quarantine cost. It’s a big loss.”

Qingdao resident Zhou Na said that even though she went to work as normal, she and her friends all believe the true scale of the outbreak is far worse than authorities have admitted.

“We don’t dare to go out for entertainment. We stopped eating at restaurants. We wear masks all day, and wash our hands frequently,” Zhou told The Epoch Times. “The officials’ response scared me. I really want to know the truth.”

Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.