The city, with a population of about 3.5 million, has been placed under lockdown for over a month now, following reports of a cluster outbreak in mid-July. Citywide COVID-19 testing went underway and local communities were placed under “seal-off management”—meaning no one would be allowed to enter or leave.
Citizens are also forbidden to leave Urumqi except under special circumstances.
It is unclear what the true scale of Xinjiang’s latest outbreak is, as authorities have provided little information. Some residents previously told The Epoch Times they suspected the government was covering up the severity of the outbreak.
Recently, Urumqi authorities added a new regulation. Mr. Wang, an Urumqi resident, told the Chinese-language Epoch Times that lately, people were told to regularly take drugs—delivered to him by volunteers working for the local government, three times per day.
“Volunteers show up, they take our temperature, watch us take the drugs and photograph us … the children take a half dosage of the drug. Whether the drug works [to prevent the virus], we don’t have a clue,” Wang said.
He added that authorities did not explain when this practice would stop.
Another resident in Urumqi told The Epoch Times that he was also required to take some form of herbal medicine, but the packaging did not show the drug name.
“Doctors say the drug is good to prevent flu and the drug is made of traditional Chinese medicine. It is said to be good for one’s immunity. And community officials pass out the drugs,” the resident said, who added that people in other areas of Xinjiang were also taking such drugs.
The resident said officials didn’t say taking the drug was not mandatory, but they collected the names of people who took the drug and those who refused to.
Another resident said he knew someone who was forced to take the drug.
The interviewees did not wish to disclose their real names for fear of reprisal from Chinese authorities for speaking to media.
On July 23, head of the Urumqi Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine Li Chongrui said at a press conference that a Chinese medicine hospital in Changji Hui prefecture, located just northwest of Urumqi, had distributed over 5,000 bags of herbal medicine to frontline health workers.
According to Chinese state-run media, CSPC Ouyi Pharmaceutical, a drugmaker based in northern China’s Hebei Province, air-shipped over 210,000 pills of antiviral medication named Umifenovir to Urumqi on July 31. It is used to treat influenza.
While the Chinese regime has promoted the use of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Umifenovir in treating patients infected with the CCP virus, the effectiveness of both medications has been questioned.
In March, Edzard Ernst, a UK-based retired researcher of complementary medicines, was quoted in the scientific journal Nature, saying, “For TCM, there is no good evidence, and therefore its use is not just unjustified, but dangerous.”
Chinese hospitals widely use Umifenovir to treat COVID patients. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved using the drug for treating COVID-19. At least two scientific papers have concluded that the use of Umifenovir was not associated with improved conditions of patients infected with the virus.
On social media, Urumqi residents posted videos of people being forced into taking the drug against their will.
A widely-circulated online video showed 15 locals at a local community called Ruishen were ordered by a woman to drink from their paper cups, supposedly containing herbal medicine.
“Quickly drink it,” a woman is heard saying in the video, noting that the date was Aug. 20. The 15 people gathered in the room complied.
In widely-circulated screenshots of an online chat, a resident complained to a staff worker that she had an allergic reaction after drinking the medication and developed a skin rash. The staff worker told her to obey orders.
Another local took to Chinese social media platform Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, saying that local officials showed up at 3 a.m., and demanded he or she drink the medication in front of the camera.
Wang also questioned why the local government made such rules, as it did not report any new local infection cases since Aug. 16. Since the lockdown, meals were delivered to his door, and his garbage was picked up by a local company at noon once a day—to minimize physical contact between people.
He added that he and his family were permitted to leave their apartment and move around the residential complex beginning on Aug. 25, but only one person per household could do so at a time.
On Aug. 24, Chinese state-run media Xinhua reported that Urumqi residents living in certain communities free of infection cases were allowed to carry out “non-gathering personal activities” within their residential complex.
Ms. Liu, also living in Urumqi, said she believed the local government wanted to impose strict measures for reasons other than stopping the spread of the virus. She explained that these measures were adopted to achieve the objective of “maintaining social stability.”
In other words, local officials could be more effective in rounding up and arresting dissidents in a city under lockdown, Liu believed.
She added that recently, it was difficult to send out information about Xinjiang. If people did so, they would risk being arrested or jailed, Liu added. People could simply disappear and no one would know where he or she has gone.
Liu said people found in possession of software to circumvent China’s firewall would be given jail time if caught.