Covid lockdown in China sees citizens trading food for cigarettes amid tough restrictions

Cases begin to fall in Xi'an as anger among the locked-down population rises, ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward reports

People living under one of China's strictest lockdowns since the onset of the Covid pandemic have been forced to trade food and products amid difficulties with the supply and distribution of goods to homes.

The 13 million residents living in the northern city of Xi’an are banned from leaving their homes and for almost two weeks have had to rely on authorities to provide food, healthcare and other essentials.

But in social media posts citizens have described difficulties getting hold of supplies, with people reliant on online orders for food.

"Can’t leave the building and it’s getting more and more difficult to buy food online," said one resident on the social media platform Weibo. Others have begun trading vegetables for cigarettes and apples for washing up liquid.

The city's morale wasn’t helped by a widely shared video showing guards attacking a man who had tried to bring food into a residential compound. The guards later apologised to the man, according to reports.

Xi'an residents share videos as people trade food items and swap vegetables for cigarettes

Issues with the distribution of supplies now look to be subsiding, with two senior officials sacked over the initial issues in the system.

Zhang Canyou, an expert with the State Council’s epidemic prevention and control team, conceded that under the lockdown, "there may be supply pressure in communities."

"The government will go all out to coordinate resources to provide people with daily necessities and medical services,” Zhang was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

A community volunteer hands over food at a temporary store outside a residential block. Credit: AP

Chinese officials have defended the lockdown, insisting it is appropriate and necessary especially given the proximity to the Beijing Winter Olympics just a month away.

In place since December 23, the measures are a reflection of China’s "zero Covid-19" policy that includes widespread testing and mask mandates.

The communist government has praised the system for helping to prevent major outbreaks.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

What is the Covid situation in China?

The city of Xi'an has seen more than 1,600 cases in its latest surge of the delta variant, prompting the strict new measures.

China has reported a total of 102,841 cases and 4,636 deaths since the pandemic began, though this is data reported by the government itself.

While those numbers are relatively small compared to the US and other countries, they do show the persistence of the virus despite the sometimes draconian measures taken by China.

Community volunteers visit a resident under lockdown in Xi'an. Credit: AP

What measures have been imposed in Xi'an to tackle the outbreak?

Initially people had been allowed to leave their homes every other day to buy necessities, but this has now become an outright ban on leaving their properties - relying on food deliveries and online orders instead.

Travel to and from the city has been suspended, although there are some exceptions and rules have been relaxed slightly in some districts that have few or no cases.

A third round of mass testing has also been ordered. The city is capable of swabbing 10 million people in just seven hours and processing up to 3 millions results in just 12 hours, according to state media.

China has not reported any shortages of beds or medical equipment and staff in Xi'an.

Two dozen special teams have been formed to deal with Covid-19 cases and a pair of hospitals have been set aside to provide other types of care, state media reports said.

Commuters on the subway in Beijing. Credit: AP

Is China ready for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February?

Outside Xi'an, China has adopted a range of anti-pandemic measures in a bid to prevent any major outbreaks ahead of the Winter Games.

Shanghai has taken more of a hands-off approach, receiving more than five million visitors during the three-day New Year holiday, according to local authorities.

In contrast, people are being told to travel in and out of Beijing only if they absolutely need to.

Athletes, officials and journalists are entering into Covid-secure bubbles as soon as they arrive and will remain within it until the Games, which run from the 4-20 February, are over.

No fans from outside China are permitted and most of the spectators are expected to be drawn from schools, government offices and the military rather than the general public.