The city of Harbin in northern China is once again under lockdown due to a coronavirus outbreak. The Epoch Times on Thursday interviewed residents who said the authorities told them social gatherings were safe again because the epidemic was completely under control.
One family said the government was very slow to admit new infections were occurring in Harbin, a city with some 11 million residents, so they did not see the danger in holding a dinner to celebrate the return of their grandmother from the hospital for an unrelated illness. Eleven people attended the dinner, and six of them are now infected, with two in critical condition.
The Epoch Times suspected Harbin authorities are still concealing the extent of the outbreak because the infected members of the family they interviewed do not match the descriptions of the new coronavirus patients who have been officially identified.
Although the Chinese government earlier said Harbin was merely under some travel restrictions while the new outbreak is brought under control, residents said a harsh lockdown has been imposed on many residents, with some of them separated from their families and involuntarily quarantined by force at home:
Mr. Xiao’s wife works as a kitchen staff at the Harbin Daoli District People’s Hospital. About seven days ago, Mr. Xiao was asked to be isolated at a quarantine center for 24 hours as a precaution. He was released from the quarantine center after testing negative.
Meanwhile, his wife has been quarantined at the hospital, not allowed to return home.
“They locked my home from the outside… I am locked inside the house,” Xiao told the Chinese-language Epoch Times on April 23.
Xiao complained that Harbin was beginning to feel like how Wuhan, the city where the virus first emerged, was in February.
“The government senior officials pressure junior officials [to tighten virus prevention], and junior officials pressure normal people…This has created a lot of panic,” Xiao said. “We normal people don’t have the right to talk, nor to choose [where to be quarantined].”
Several residents who have tangential relationships with the Daoli District Hospital at the center of the Harbin outbreak said the authorities forcibly quarantined them by locking them inside their homes even though they never came into direct contact with hospital staff or patients.
Others took to social media to say they were locked out of the housing complexes where they live because special passes were suddenly required, without warning, for entry.
Canada’s National Post interviewed residents who said they are afraid to leave their houses as the total number of officially confirmed cases passed 500. At least one confirmed case has been reported in a neighboring province as well, and a patient discharged from the Harbin hospital has reportedly become sick with the virus while visiting Inner Mongolia.
Australia’s News.com reported on Friday that “non-locals” are being monitored across Heilongjiang province, with cash rewards offered for tips to the authorities if anyone is seen illegally crossing the borders. Schools in Heilongjiang have been closed, temperature checks and face masks are mandatory, and the cellphone system China uses to rate citizens on green, yellow, or red health status has been activated.
The official story in Harbin and the surrounding Heilongjiang province is that Chinese nationals returning from trips outside the country are bringing the coronavirus back with them, especially those who have traveled to Russia. The patient described as the source of the current outbreak is a student who recently traveled to New York City. Other parts of China blamed African immigrants for spreading the coronavirus, with unfortunate social and diplomatic consequences.