Covid restrictions have been intensifying across Tibet, leading to public resentment in the capital city of Lhasa under harsh and dystopian measures. The unsparing and ruthless management of the government’s covid response has led to the chaotic growth of large-scale quarantine in empty stadiums, schools, warehouses, and unfinished buildings.
Social media videos show thousands lined up to be bused away to an estimated twenty makeshift quarantine camps in the darkness of night Lhasa residents call them as the “midnight bus” has come to symbolize fear of what awaits at the destination where tens of thousands are locked together in grim conditions.
In one video, buses lined up in front of one of the city’s only two mosques is seen to be hauling away thousands of people from the Tibetan Muslim Wobaling neighborhood to quarantine camps.
In fact, hundreds of online appeals from Lhasa have drawn attention to the degrading situation in the camps where people are crammed together in squalor without adequate hygiene, food and medical care. As a result, Tibetans in a rare outburst of open despair have publicly mounted urgent appeals.
While the expression of complaints or critical views is risky anywhere in the Chinese state, Tibetans are monitored more heavily and face harsher repercussions due to the political sensitivity of the region.
In one post, a Tibetan woman decries that people are being treated like criminals instead of patients. If the authorities are incapable of properly managing these quarantine camps, she charges, then they should allow those who test positive to isolate in their homes. “Even if they die, they can at least die in their homes,” she said.
Another Tibetan woman said her husband and her three small children were taken to a school facility at the Lhasa Beijing Middle School Quarantine Center after her covid test was inconclusive. Her entire family was forced to quarantine with eight hundred people. Her children developed fevers and there were no doctors, medicine and medical treatments.
In another viral audio recording, a Tibetan father pleads to a government official to stop the separation from his family of his one-year-old infant at one of the Lhasa quarantine center. “We were first brought to this quarantine camp even though we tested negative for covid. Now we have tested positive and you want to take away our child. If we need to move again, we want move together as a family,” he says. “If you separate us from our child, I am willing to die right here. Please come collect my body after I die.”
In Lhasa, the restrictions have been especially difficult for the large section of the population who come from rural areas for low paying service jobs in the city. One young woman took to Douyin, Chinese version of TikTok, to appeal to the government to let migrant workers return to their villages. She shared how the price of food has skyrocketed and that she is running out of her hard earned savings. If allowed to return home to her village, she would not have to pay rent and she would at least have enough to eat.
Under these repressive lockdown measures, mandatory tests are forcibly being carried out each day--and in certain neighborhoods even twice a day—leaving people anxiously checking their cell phones for test results. A “red” color notification indicates a positive covid result which you and your family will most likely end up in one of the quarantine camps.
Even with strict lockdown since early August people have been continue tested positive in Lhasa. Some of the Lhasa residents who have been tested positive report that their only human contact were the authorities in white hazmat suits conducting the covid tests themselves.
In the past weekend, these outspoken social media posts were not only deleted, an official warning was issued that accounts that shared these posts would be shutdown.
A young Tibetan woman then went online to Douyin to let her followers know that she had been receiving threatening calls from the police. “If I disappear, you know what has happened to me,” she said. Repeated calls to Chinese embassy for reaction to this report were unanswered In another dramatic turn of events on Saturday, a Lhasa municipal spokesperson came out online and made an apology for the inadequate management of the quarantine camps. The official said that they have not been able to meet the needs of the people due to the enormous scale of these camps.
This is known to be the first time a state official has made an apology to people since China seized Tibet more than six decades ago. Yet as with everything else in Tibet, the overwhelming majority of those in quarantine camps are Tibetan, and most of the complaints being made on social media are in the Tibetan language. The municipal official used only the Chinese language in his apology.