Jilin, an industrial province in northeastern China, is at the front line of the country’s latest coronavirus outbreak, leaving medical workers and migrant laborers there struggling to cope with restrictions.
Shanghai, which imposed a lockdown to stanch a coronavirus surge, has won more attention in China and abroad in part because it had appeared to be a well-run bastion against infections, and it has a large and vocal-middle class. But statistics of illness and resident accounts suggest that Jilin has been hit harder.
China is trying to follow a restrictive policy, but is now reporting nearly 9,000 cases a day, most of them in people showing no symptoms. More than 2,000 new cases were detected in Jilin on Tuesday, most of them light or asymptomatic, according to China’s National Health Commission.
While the numbers are relatively few compared with those in many countries, especially when it comes to serious illness and death, China’s stringent lockdown and quarantine policies have put a strain on local governments as cases rise and residents require hospital beds, medicine and food deliveries. All 1,150 symptomatic cases in Jilin recorded on Tuesday have been put into medical isolation, according to local health officials.
In recent days, messages have spread on China’s internet describing rural migrant workers in Jilin who have tested positive for the coronavirus and then come under quarantine. Some have complained of lack of medical treatment and economic support. They included laborers who, in a twist of irony, said they had helped build the makeshift hospitals to treat Covid patients there.
“Everyone’s panicking and they don’t know where to go,” said one of the calls for help. “Over 40 have tested positive. Where do we get treatment? Afterward who’s going to set things right with us?”
One infected worker who posted the plea online said in a telephone interview that he had been locked up in the same hospital he had just built as a day laborer, along with dozens of other infected workers. He said he had a fever and sometimes could not get medicine while medical staff members struggled to tend to 300 patients. He said that he was not being paid for his time in quarantine and would miss the spring planting season on his farm.
On Monday, officials in Hebei Province, near Beijing, confirmed that two workers who had traveled to Jilin to help build the Covid hospitals had returned home infected with the coronavirus.
At a news conference on Monday, an official from the Jilin city government — the city is a namesake of the province — acknowledged that workers on a building site for a Covid hospital there had been infected. The official said that the spread had been stopped and “the workers’ rights have been effectively protected and assured.”
Calls to Jilin province government’s press office went unanswered, and an official at the province’s health department said he did not know about the workers’ complaints.
This week, Sun Chunlan, the Chinese vice premier in charge of pandemic measures, visited Jilin. She told officials to stick to the government’s “dynamic zero” goal of minimizing infections.
“Apply rigorous measures to continue getting to grips with every task in pandemic prevention and control,” she said, according to the Jilin government website.
Keith Bradsher contributed reporting and Liu Yi contributed research.