South China Morning Post
Nearly a year after the lockdown in the Chinese city of Wuhan to contain the initial coronavirus outbreak, millions in China are again under stay-at-home orders as the country faces its highest number of new cases in months, this time in several provinces including Hebei in the north, neighbouring Beijing.Residents in the affected areas are complaining online about losing access to medical services, and being stranded as bus and train services were suspended. The authorities appeared not to have learned from mistakes made when 9 million people in Wuhan were shut in during the early days of the epidemic, according to some reports.On Thursday, Hebei authorities said more than 2,100 students were stranded in Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital, prompting the education bureau to tell universities to check the status of every student and provide assistance.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.This came after a video went viral showing students on the streets in subfreezing temperatures with nowhere to go after universities closed for the winter holiday last week. The city had stopped public transport and hotels did not have space or charged prices students could not afford, according to a report by China News Weekly.“Authorities in Shijiazhuang did not seem to learn from the experience of Wuhan last year,” said a post shared by Xu Fuqun, the deputy editor-in-chief of Communist Party newspaper China Society News. “It is easy to make spur-of-the-moment decisions, but they don’t seem to have thought seriously about the problems that follow.”Published on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, the post outlined a long list of issues that arose as the Shijiazhuang lockdown took effect, such as medical staff being unable to get to work without public transport and residents running short of daily necessities.Xu declined an interview request from the South China Morning Post and said that he did not write the post, but shared it on behalf of the unidentified writer. It was liked by almost 700,000 users and reposted over 165,000 times before being deleted on Thursday.The post conflicted with comments by the director of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, George Gao Fu. Last week, he said China had learned a lot since Wuhan and the latest lockdowns would be more precise, like “whack-a-mole”.Shijiazhuang residents on social media cited more confusion than precision, complaining of unclear information on how to get medical treatment other than for Covid-19, among other struggles.A woman in her 32nd week of pregnancy, carrying twins, said on Weibo that she had contacted at least seven hospitals for a prenatal check-up but was rejected because her area had been designated as medium-risk for Covid-19 infections.This was despite official guidelines from the Shijiazhuang Health Commission stating that medical services for pregnant women and other patients requiring urgent treatment would continue as usual.“I just want to say, I really did not feel any warmth, only helplessness,” the woman wrote on Thursday. “I don’t know how many other patients in medium-risk areas are facing the same dead-end cycle like I am.”Her story gained attention online and the Chinese Medicine Hospital of Hebei contacted her and offered assistance, according to a post she published later the same day. The woman did not respond to a request for comment.China’s containment of Covid-19 has been viewed as a success, which after the early chaos in Wuhan saw local transmission of the disease almost completely eliminated. This has been attributed by authorities to the country’s authoritarian government structure and a population that mostly complied with orders.But liberal democratic societies such as New Zealand, Taiwan and South Korea also successfully contained Covid-19. New Zealand introduced a lockdown between March and April last year that at the time was the most stringent in the world, according to the Oxford Covid-19 government response tracker.That response eliminated community transmission and the country was declared free of Covid-19 by June 8. To date, New Zealand, with a population of about 5 million, has had 2,246 cases and 25 deaths from the disease. It has been held up as a successful case study for responding to Covid-19 by the World Health Organization.Michael Baker, an epidemiologist and a member of an advisory group to the New Zealand government, pushed for a strategy to stamp out the virus, taking some lessons from the containment in Wuhan, but stated that the type of government was not the issue.“Succeeding does not depend on your form of government and even the methods you use,” Baker told the Post. “You’ve got countries that have taken authoritarian approaches, like mainland China. You’ve got places that have achieved the same end with much more public engagement and persuasion, like Taiwan.”Baker and his colleagues wrote a paper on a strategy to eliminate Covid-19, rather than just contain it, which was published in the British Medical Journal in December.The strategy includes informed input from scientists, political commitment, sufficient health care infrastructure, public engagement and trust in the measures being taken, along with a social safety net.However, Baker said he understood that for Chinese cities such as Shijiazhuang, which has a population of 11 million, there may not be many choices.“From a distance, it often looks quite brutal, the scale of the operation,” he said. “When you’ve got 10-plus million people in quite a big city, you haven’t really got many options.”Countries have to make a trade-off between protecting the population and individual freedoms, according to Baker.In the United States, which has the world’s highest Covid-19 death toll, the response has been fragmented, with many states reluctant to introduce lockdowns. Some residents also protested against public health measures such as mask-wearing, saying they infringed on personal liberty.“It’s one of those trade-offs,” Baker said. “If we were standing back dispassionately, the alternative would be tens of thousands of people dying versus a very tough, regimented system. The mortality rate in China is among the lowest in the world. So it is quite complicated.”More from South China Morning Post: * Coronavirus: China reports 96 new infections, links superspreader to 102 asymptomatic cases * Coronavirus: what’s life like for the 20 million Chinese back in lockdown? * China’s rural Covid-19 clusters challenge country’s strategy to stop disease spreadingThis article As Chinese cities face new Covid-19 lockdowns, have lessons of 2020 been learned? first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2021.