Under lockdown, people in Jilin fear dying of hunger before coronavirus

Domestic News

It’s almost been a week since Tonghua, a small city in China’s northeastern Jilin Province, went into lockdown to fight an ongoing resurgence of new COVID-19 cases in China. But instead of the deadly virus, the city’s 300,000 have been struggling to keep hunger at bay after being sealed inside their homes.

Tonghua

It’s almost been a week since Tonghua, a small city in China’s northeastern Jilin Province, went into lockdown to fight an ongoing resurgence of new COVID-19 cases in China. But instead of the deadly virus, the city’s 300,000 have been struggling to keep hunger at bay after being sealed inside their homes. 

Over the weekend, in a desperate attempt to save themselves from the prospect of starving, a number of Tonghua residents took to social media to vent their frustration about the local government’s major delay in delivering supplies that it promised at the beginning of the lockdown. The government-organized deliveries were supposed to be the only source of food for sealed-off households. 

In a screenshot that has been making the rounds on Weibo, which showed a WeChat group chat among residents in a housing community, a person wrote (in Chinese) that she had been pushed to the brink of starvation after two days without food. “Can someone please spare some bread or instant noodles for me? Maybe you can find a way to send me food through my apartment windows. And I’m willing to pay,” the message reads.

Other Tonghua locals complained on Weibo that because the lockdown came suddenly and without warning, they weren’t given an opportunity to stock up on essentials like food and toilet paper. “There are barricade tapes on my apartment door. I feel so helpless and hopeless,” a Tonghua resident wrote (in Chinese). He added that like many other people in the city, he reported the situation to officials overseeing his neighborhood, but the complaint went ignored. 

Other Tonghua residents said that their complaints had fallen of deaf ears in the real world, so they had participated in a loosely organized online campaign as a last-ditch effort to get their grievances heard. “Please share the message as widely as you can. We are literally dying here,” a Tonghua local wrote (in Chinese).

As of today, the hashtag “Quarantined people in Tonghua have no supplies” (#通化隔离居民没有物资# has been viewed more than 300 million times, with a large number of people outside of Tonghua voicing their solidarity with the locals and urging the central government to address their concerns. 

196 cases, and undelivered food packages in Tonghua  

The city of Tonghua has been among the hardest-hit cities as China battles its worst outbreak of COVID-19 since last March. After a new cluster of local infections emerged, Tonghua’s Dongchang District was classified as a “high-risk” area by health authorities on January 20, and the entire city entered lockdown. As of today, there are currently 196 active and confirmed COVID-19 cases — people showing symptoms — in Tonghua, where a third round of citywide mass testing is underway.

In an interview (in Chinese) with Voice of China, a senior manager at Jitongbang, a government-authorized company that offers online group-buying services for quarantined residents to get food, said that its platform and workers had been overburdened by the number of orders placed in the past few days by Tonghua locals. Facing an extremely high demand for its services, the company had had to shutter its order system in Tonghua for now while racing to address its undelivered backlog.

tonghuaTo calm the fear of food shortages, the local government of Tonghua said over the weekend that starting from today, half-price “vegetable packages” would be sent to people locked in their homes, and the amount of food was supposed to sustain them for five days. At a press conference on Sunday, Jiǎng Hǎiyàn 蒋海燕, deputy mayor of Tonghua, apologized (in Chinese) to the locals for the “delayed delivery of living necessities,” saying that with more than 800 volunteers joining the city’s staffing capacity, the government would take more “effective measures” to meet people’s needs.

But judging from some posts online, not everyone in Tonghua has seen the promise fulfilled. When talking to Voice of China, a community volunteer revealed that for the 6,000 households in her residential complex, there were only 200 packages available on Monday, which had been delivered to homes of the elderly and people with special difficulties.