Tibetans suffer due to Covid mismanagement and censorship

The conflict zone of Tibet is again on the boil. It is not for political reasons this time but a health-related one. The alleged mismanagement by Chinese authorities has caused coronavirus to create havoc across the Tibetan Plateau.  While Chinese censors have tried to keep ground realities to remain hidden from international knowledge, the leaked information showed at least three have died of coronavirus infection in Tibet so far. Overall, the harsh lockdown conditions, mishandling of Covid-19 and repressive policies of the Beijing government have angered people in Tibet, who are struggling to even voice their concerns.

When entire China and many parts of the world were reeling under the coronavirus crisis, Tibet remained untouched except for one case at the beginning of the pandemic. Tibet did not see a Covid-19 case for over 900 days. While most of the world is free from coronavirus infections, many Chinese provinces are suffering from the viral disease. Now, Tibet too has come under its grip, for which people are blaming Chinese agencies. Tibetan people said they did not get proper medical care or sanitation services despite rising Covid-19 cases.

Tibetans are at higher risk since the people from hilly regions are more prone to chronic respiratory diseases and low blood pressure levels, according to China’s Health Commission. Yet, Chinese agencies did not make the necessary arrangements, which led to the death of three, Tibetans maintained. “They died because they did not get the treatment they needed on time,” said a Tibetan, who requested anonymity fearing reprisal from Chinese authorities. Patients are forced to stay in unhygienic conditions as the quarantine centres are crowded and without required medical facilities.

Tibetans are also expressing their concerns about overbearing treatment by government officials, who are forcing people to go into mandatory quarantine without verifying if they are Covid-10 positive or not. One Tibetan said that a person bleeding from his nose was locked inside a quarantine facility but he could not be taken to the hospital as Chinese officials did not find the keys in time. “In another facility, someone had a stroke and due to communication issues between the hospitals and officials, he could not reach the hospital sooner. The patient is now in the hospital but remains unconscious,” he said.

Xi Jinping’s government has enforced similar stringent conditions in Tibet as they were in other parts of China earlier under the ‘Zero Covid’ policy. So Tibetans are taken to quarantine facilities or forced to stay inside their homes. This has caused Tibetans to lose their jobs and source of livelihood, besides mental harassment. Thirty-year-old Wen Yan said she was sent to a dirty, unfinished complex instead of a proper quarantine centre, where other patients were beaten when asked for food.                                                         

Tibet is facing a shortage of medical workers and volunteers. As people are allowed to go out, there is no facility to get food from the market or community centres. Sam Wang, who is locked inside his house for around 7-weeks, said “The last time I managed to buy some food was half a month ago. It seems that people don’t know what to do, it is chaotic.”

An activist group Tibet Action Institute said people are crying for help as they are facing risks to their survival. “They’re these direct cries for help coming from inside in a way that we just don’t see anymore. So we know they’re at the breaking point,” said Lhadon Tethong, director of the institute.

Now Tibetans are posting videos of mismanagement as well as the high-handedness of government agencies on social platforms such as Douyin and Kuaishou. “The social media posts you see from people in Lhasa are all about suffering, but that’s the real Lhasa,” said a city resident named Min. Sui Xingguo, deputy chief of Lhasa’s communist party-administered district office, has apologised to the Tibetan people for the inconvenience, lack of facilities and bad attitude of officials. “Some staff did not treat residents with care … and responded to their demands with an attitude and manner that hurt residents’ feelings,” he said.

Beijing government has started censoring news and social media posts from Tibet. Authorities forced Wen Yan to delete the photos of the dirty quarantine centre she has posted on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. Beijing-government-sponsored teams are taking down images and videos related to Covid-19 mismanagement in Tibet, which are posted on Weibo. Also, six people were detained by Chinese police for sharing such pictures related to negligence of authorities and poor quarantine centres.

News Desk

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