Nearly 2,000 people are quarantined in China’s Xi’an after nine residents who came into close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case at a wedding returned to the city.
On Dec. 28, the nine residents from Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province in northwest China, attended a wedding in Shijiazhuang in China’s northern Hebei province—a city currently experiencing a severe outbreak of COVID-19.
Upon the nine residents’ return to their home city, authorities identified them as close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 patient surnamed Tian who was at the wedding.
Further contact tracing was then conducted and a notice was issued by the office for COVID-19 control and prevention of Xi’an, outlining the routes and transportation taken by the nine residents. Seven of the nine took Line 2 of the subway on Dec. 28 around 8 p.m., while the other two rode the same line on Dec. 29 around 7:50 p.m.
According to the notice, the 600 people who were in the same passenger car as the travelers were declared as close contacts.
In a press conference on Jan. 11, Xi’an’s health committee director said city and district authorities had moved swiftly to monitor and quarantine the nine residents and their close contacts.
Authorities identified a total of 1,997 close contacts, all of whom have been quarantined. Of those, 1,865 have tested negative for the virus, while the remaining 132 are still being tested.
The nine original close contacts have finished their 14-day centralized quarantine and have all tested negative. They will now undergo another 14 days of home quarantine.
Movements Tracked Using ‘Big Data’
Li is a saleswoman from Yanta District, one of the 11 urban districts in Xi’an. She takes the Line 2 subway to work every day. Dec. 28 and 29 were no exception.
Li told the Chinese-language Epoch Times that she received a phone call on the morning of Jan. 4 from the government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I thought it was a scam at the time,” Li recalled of the conversation. The representative on the phone told her that they had retrieved her personal information from “big data,” including whom she rode with on the subway, when she got on the train, and at which stop. “He got [all the information] right,” Li said.
“As soon as he finished speaking, I was very scared. It was very scary,” she added.
The Chinese government enforces a digital QR system for contact-tracing and quarantine enforcement. Citizens are assigned a color of green, yellow, or red based on their exposure to COVID-19 and their travel history. This rating system is embedded in Alipay, the most widely used online payment platform in China, as well as WeChat, the country’s most popular messaging app.
After the phone call, Li’s QR code on WeChat turned red, meaning she could no longer go anywhere, since the QR code acts as a pass to buildings and public transportation.
Li was put in an ambulance and sent to Jinsha International Hotel to quarantine.
“It was quite a scene. The ambulance and the disinfectant both made me feel dizzy. I felt horrible on the way there,” Li said.
There was one other person at her workplace who rode in the same subway carriage. Their supervisor was “shocked” when he learned Li had been quarantined, and ordered the rest of the employees to get tested immediately on the company dime.
“I have not been positively diagnosed, as far as I know,” Li said.
Li said the hotel was decent and had all the necessary utilities. She had been in quarantine for five days at the time of the interview.
“I am someone who can’t sit still, I am going crazy,” she said.
She was told at first that quarantine would cost 100 yuan ($15.45) a day for room and board. Then, she was asked to pay 1900 yuan ($294) upon arrival for the 14-day quarantine plus a 500 yuan ($77) security deposit. However, the hotel has since reimbursed her.