December 9, 2022

BEIJING (AP) – Vast Xinjiang is the latest Chinese region to be hit by sweeping COVID-19 travel restrictions as China further ramps up control measures ahead of a key Communist Party congress later this month.

Trains and buses in and out the region of 22 million people have been suspended and the number of passengers on flights has been reduced to 75% of capacity, reports said Thursday.

As is often the case with China’s draconian “zero-COVID” policy, the measures seemed disproportionate to the number of cases discovered.

The National Health Commission announced just 93 cases in Xinjiang on Wednesday and 97 on Thursday, all asymptomatic. Xinjiang leaders admitted on Tuesday that there were problems with detection and control measures, but did not say when they planned to lift the restrictions.

Officials desperately don’t want to be called out for new outbreaks in their regions, and Xinjiang is under special scrutiny over the government’s establishment of a series of prison-like re-education centers in which Muslim minorities have been taught to renounce their religion and are reportedly subjected to torture. a series of human rights violations.

Xinjiang’s comprehensive surveillance system, which relies on ubiquitous checkpoints, facial and even speech recognition software, and universal cell phone surveillance, has made travel among the population extremely easy.

“Zero-COVID” has been closely identified with Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, who is expected to serve a third five-year term at the congress beginning Oct. 16. That is despite criticism from the World Health Organization and massive disruptions to China’s economy, education and normal life.

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Last month, one night bus accident that killed 27 people who were forcibly relocated to a massive quarantine site in southwestern China sparked a storm of anger online at the policy’s harshness. Survivors said they were forced to leave their apartments even if no case had been discovered.

“Zero-COVID” has been celebrated by the country’s leaders as proof of the superiority of their system over the US, which has seen more than a million COVID-19 deaths.

Xi has cited China’s approach as a “great strategic success” and a testament to the “significant advantages” of its political system over Western liberal democracies.

But even as other countries open up, the humanitarian costs of China’s pandemic response have risen.

Earlier this year, desperate residents in Shanghai complained that they could not get medicine or even groceries during the city’s two-month lockdown, while some died in hospitals from lack of medical care as the city restricted movement. Last week, residents in the western region of Xinjiang said they were starving during a more than 40-day lockdown.

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