‘Stop and just do your job’
The author is a Beijing correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.
At 1 p.m. on January 2, a 61-year-old man who was in quarantine in Xian, China, felt acute chest pain as he had a chronic angina. His daughter was feeling anxious and started to call hospitals, but calls did not go through and were answered by automated service.
She got an approval from the local committee and arrived at a tertiary hospital nearby. But the hospital guard did not let her father in as he was from a medium-risk area. Other hospitals also turned him away for various reasons.
He was finally admitted to a hospital at 10 p.m., nine hours after he had the attack. But it was too late. The doctor said that he could have been saved if he had taken thrombolytic drugs. In early morning of December 3, he passed away. The daughter posted the story on her social media, “I spent the last few hours of my father’s life with the biggest despair and pain of my life.”
The sad story spread quickly. As I read it, I looked like a déjà vu of what happened in Wuhan last year. It was hard to understand why the response was so strict in Xian, even more so than at the early days of Covid-19. Now, the vaccination rate is over 90 percent and average positive case is 100 per day in Xian. In fact, a pregnant woman who came to the hospital with abdominal pain had a miscarriage while waiting for Covid test results. A man who came out to buy dumplings because he didn’t have enough supplies was beaten up by an agency worker.
Only four months ago in September, Xian hosted the China National Sports Festival, a “rehearsal” for the Beijing Winter Olympics, and no positive case was confirmed during the 14-day event. The organizers were determined that “If we have one positive case, all public servants will resign.”
But the tension may have been eased. On January 2, the routes of the passengers off a Pakistan International Airlines flight, which included six infected people, crossed with the Xian residents who came to the airport for drop-offs. The residents were unaware and went around the city, and the coronavirus spread instantly.
The city’s response was late from the report of the first confirmed case to the trend of rapid spread. With the Winter Games a month away, the Chinese government ordered the extreme measure of blockading the city of 13 million residents, and many high-level officials were fired. Since then, disease control has become extremely tight.
In this atmosphere, the Xian government distributed a promotional video titled, “We are Here.” It shows close-up shots of the medical staff sweating in protective gear and disease control agents asleep from exhaustion. But the residents sarcastically say, “Stop and just do your job” and “Leaders should feel ashamed!”