By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, Aug 12: The Chinese government has reportedly imposed lockdowns in regions including Tibet and Xinjiang in line with their zero-Covid policy. Chinese authorities in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region have placed the entire population of 800,000 in Shigatse prefecture-level city under a three-day complete lockdown. In China’s occupied western region of East Turkestan (Xinjiang), three cities in the Aksu area have restricted the public to only necessary movements starting Thursday.
The state has also issued mass Covid testing to detect the spread of the virus; as of Aug. 11, more cases have been detected in Shigatse, Lhasa, Nyingtri and Lhoka, and more preparations for testing are going on in Nagchu and Chamdo, according to a report published by the US-based International Campaign for Tibet. Mainland China reported 1,993 domestically transmitted Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, according to the National Health Commission.
The rights organization opined that the rising cases in occupied Tibetan regions are due to the influx of Chinese tourists, who come to Tibet on train routes between Shigatse and Lhasa, as well as between Lhasa and Nyingtri. However, the “dynamic zero-COVID policy” has only strengthened the surveillance on Tibetans by the Chinese government. The region has been closed to foreign tourists, journalists and activists for several years.
The state media mouthpiece, Global Times in a recent article also hinted that neighbouring states could also be responsible for the increase in Covid-19 cases in China. “As Xigaze [Tib: Shigatse ] is a city bordering India, Nepal and Bhutan, the possibility of infection through trade cannot be ruled out,” the article suggested. On the contrary, netizens online have also expressed concern over the overflow of people from mainland China. “In short, there are two main reasons, one is the highly infectious Omicron, and the other is the increase in the flow of people during the summer vacation. Therefore, not only Tibet, but also many popular tourist destinations such as Xinjiang and Hainan have also experienced epidemics during this period,” one such post said on Aug 8.
Critics have said that Xi Jinping’s large scale restrictions including lockdown and forced quarantine have been used also to quell dissent. The harsh restrictions by the government have also fuelled massive public anger due to economic distress in many Chinese cities including economic hubs like Shanghai.