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Covid situation in Tibet: Deaths, hunger, chaotic handling of outbreak

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(TibetanReview.net, Sep17’22) – The Coronavirus situation in Chinese ruled Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is far more serious than the bare numbers of community transmitted and asymptomatic cases being reported daily by China’s official media. At least three have died recently from the virus due to lack of timely and proper medical care. Besides, local officials are reported to be unable to separately quarantine positive cases and close contacts, or keep up with food supplies to those under prolonged lockdown especially in capital Lhasa.

Citing sources in Tibet and in exile, the Tibetan service of rfa.org has on Sep 16 named three Tibetans known to have died recently from the pandemic viral infection as Penpa Tsering from Lhasa, Toelung Dechen (Chinese: Duilongdeqing); Ajho Penpa from Shigatse (Rikaze or Xigaze); and an unidentified Tibetan in Gyantse (Jiangzi). All were stated to have died at home due to lack of timely and proper medical care.

Penpa Tsering, a 62-year-old doctor from India who could not return after travelling to Tibet in 2005, has died after suffering from Covid-related severe cough and body aches.

Ajho Penpa’s family was not allowed to burn his body for six days, after which Chinese staff took it away after pasting on the door of his family’s home a warning which read: “Covid positive family.”

China has not reported any death from the pandemic in Tibet. And it reported only one severe case in the early days of the pandemic’s current spread: that of a 67-year-old woman having a history of hypertension and heart disease, reported by the official chinadaily.com.cn on Aug 10. There has been no further report on her case. The suspicion is that there have been many more Covid-19 deaths as well as severe cases.

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Infected patients quarantined alongside those who tested negative. No food for hours, despite repeated requests. Lines of buses, loaded with people, waiting late into the night to drop them off at makeshift isolation centers. These are the scenes described by residents of Lhasa, who have been locked down for one month as officials try to contain the coronavirus outbreak, reported the nytimes.com Sep 16.

“The social media posts you see from people in Lhasa are all about suffering, but that’s the real Lhasa. Lhasa’s public announcements, I feel they’re all fake,” a food delivery worker in the city who gave only his surname, Min, for fear of official retaliation, has said.

The government has promoted positive videos of officials encouraging frontline workers and promising ample supplies of food and medicine. But Mr Min has said he was quarantined with five family members in an unfinished apartment building, even though he had not tested positive. Workers told him he could be released if his latest test, on Sep 10, also came back negative — but it had been days with no word on a result.

Meanwhile, officials sent another man as well to join his family in quarantine, because they were all of the Hui ethnic minority. With the man having said he had tested positive, all Min and the others could do was to wear double masks and try to keep a distance.

While restrictions were being tightened across the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the lockdowns in Tibet and Xinjiang stood out for having dragged on for more than a month, the report noted.

And while the chorus of social media complaints against conditions under lockdown have come mainly from Chinese residents, ethnic Tibetans have also joined in, despite the especially severe repercussion they faced, the report said.

Ethnic Tibetans can face intense repercussions for any criticism of the government. This is because, under President Xi Jinping, the authorities in TAR have stepped up longstanding efforts to assimilate ethnic Tibetans through resettlement programs, political indoctrination and a crackdown on their language, the report noted.

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Food is running out for many families in Lhasa, a city of 860,000, where people have been either locked in their homes or sent to makeshift hospitals since the first local cases were identified on Aug 8, reported the scmp.com Sep 16.

“It is extremely difficult to get food and many people have run out of food. I feel we are in the same situation as Ili [prefecture in Xinjiang],” Sam Wang, a Lhasa resident, has said, adding that he had been locked in his home for 36 days so far and was last able to buy some food half a month earlier. (Ili, with a population of more than 4.5 million, had suffered a breakdown of local healthcare systems and grass-roots organisations, due to the large outbreak in Covid infections.)

With no large e-commerce operator, Lhasa depends solely on community-level Communist Party cadres for its food supplies. They liaise with suppliers, but most of the cadres in his community had been infected, Wang has said.

The report noted that Wang’s account matched the picture portrayed by a large number of online posts. Most are quickly censored, but residents and other sympathetic internet users continue to post them, hoping to attract outside attention to the city’s dire situation, it added.

“It seems that people don’t know what to do, it is chaotic. The community-level police were infected, community-level cadres were infected, volunteers were infected and then the following batch of volunteers were also infected,” Wang has said.

“One of my neighbours’ one-month-old child was infected and had a fever. There was no ambulance and the couple went berserk in the [neighbourhood] WeChat group and finally a volunteer managed to get the infant to the hospital,” Wang has said.

Local officials were reported to be at breaking point, unable to separately quarantine positive cases and close contacts, or keep up with food supplies to them.

“Putting those who are negative with the positive [in the quarantine facilities] of course there are cross-infections and of course the local government wanted to cover up,” the report quoted one social media post as saying.


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