Years of discussion have focused on the Tibet-China conflict, but up until now, neither the attention nor the justice have been given to the Tibetan liberation fight. The Chinese government has never wavered in its efforts to tighten its painful grip on the Tibetan people, and the human rights situation in Tibet has gotten significantly worse over time. When the epidemic struck, the entire globe suffered, but since Tibet’s status was already deplorable, it could not have grown any worse. However, the current COVID-19 epidemic in Tibet has caused problems for the authorities and made life for the Tibetans living there intolerable. According to reports, the government’s Zero COVID policy resulted in harsh, unjustified measures and seriously endangered the lives of the Tibetan people. The outbreak started on August 7th, 2022, and lockdowns commenced immediately after.
Due to the outbreak’s suddenness, the government was also in a state of shock. As usual, China barred journalists and other observers from entering Tibet in order to assess the gravity of the situation there and to learn more about it. The only source of information was the Chinese media, which is definitely the most biassed channel because it totally complies with the government’s intentions. The Chinese government made sure to emphasise that the outbreak originated in the Tibetan region and that it appeared to be the third generation sub-variant of Omicron. They even went so far as to say that the specific variety had not yet been seen anywhere in China.
After stringent lockdowns designed to stop the spread of the disease were lifted by Chinese authorities in early December, Tibetan sources report that COVID deaths had risen in Tibetan parts of China. According to a source who lives in Tibet, since the zero-COVID policy’s limits were loosened on December 7 in response to protracted demonstrations across China, more than 100 people have perished in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. According to the source, 64 victims were burnt in the Drigung Cemetery in Maldro Gongkar alone on January 2. Additionally, 30 bodies were cremated at the Tsemonling Cemetery, 17 bodies at the Sera Cemetery, and another 15 bodies at a cemetery in Toelung Dechen. Previously, just three to four people a day were cremated in these cemeteries in the Lhasa region, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security concerns.
Other sources reported that COVID has also claimed the lives of Tibetans in the western Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, and Qinghai’s Ngaba, Sangchu, Kardze, and Lithang regions. So many remains were taken to Ngaba’s Kirti monastery in Sichuan that some were left out to feed the vultures. According to a Tibetan resident of Sichuan’s Derge county who spoke to RFA under the condition of anonymity in order to avoid drawing the notice of authorities, “COVID has
penetrated every corner of Tibet.” A hospital in Gansu’s Sangchu county solely stated that they had “a handful of COVID patients” at its institution in response to requests for comment made to government hospitals, which did not respond to any inquiries. The public was already worried that China might conceal information regarding the pandemic’s progress after the loosening of limitations, but on December 25 the National Health Commission of China declared that it will stop publishing the daily COVID case counts.
Chinese authorities in Tibet are clamping down on the taking of photos or video recordings at local cemeteries in a bid to keep news of rising COVID deaths in the region from reaching the outside world, Radio Free Asia has learned. After lockdowns to stop the spread of the disease were lifted by authorities in the first few days of December, the number of fatalities in Tibetan regions of China has risen again. According to a local source who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security reasons, between 15 to 20 bodies are now transported daily to a cemetery in the Tibetan Autonomous Region’s Drigung and to other cemeteries in the city of Lhasa. The insider claimed that “the Chinese government has imposed strong restrictions around the cemeteries in Lhasa.” “People are not permitted to record or share recordings or photos of the scenes in graves.”
Due to the current restrictions on access to hospitals and other medical facilities, the insider continued, “We have not been able to confirm all the causes of death.” Four individuals, including two local government workers, perished on January 7 in Dragyab county, Chamdo prefecture, according to sources who spoke with RFA. Additionally, according to some sources, dead are reportedly being transported in huge numbers from nearby districts to the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Serta county, Sichuan, for cremation. According to sources, the Chinese government has in the meantime reopened Tibet to tourists from other parts of China. In Lhasa, officials have announced free entrance to the city’s tourist sites.
The Covid mortality surge has made life for Tibetans increasingly difficult, yet the government continues to be unaware of these difficulties. Tibetans are not allowed to use the medical facilities, and the entire problem is being handled behind closed doors without anyone in the outside world knowing. Tibetans endure unending suffering and death at the hands of ruthless Chinese rule, as well as the current Covid pandemic. The condition of the Tibetan people demands international assistance and that such cruel and unfair activities be stopped. While the rest of the globe is recovering from the Covid outbreak, Tibetans continue to struggle for access to basic services rather than having the time to heal.