Chinese mayor apologizes for COVID-19 restrictions

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The mayor of a northeastern Chinese city on the North Korean border, who was confined for more than 50 days, has apologized for his government’s mistakes amid widespread – though often veiled – discontent over the government’s aggressive strategy. to manage the pandemic.

Without going into details, Dandong Mayor Hao Jianjun said the government’s work and basic services had been “unsatisfactory,” something for which he apologized, according to a statement released Monday night by the city government. city.

It is unusual for an official from the Communist Party hierarchy to publicly admit mistakes, especially when it comes to the strict “zero COVID” policy reaffirmed on several occasions by leaders of the party led by President Xi Jinping.

Despite reporting only a handful of cases, Dandong has had one of the strictest quarantines in China, in which even food and other basic goods were banned, according to unofficial sources.

In his reported remarks at a meeting with neighbors, Hao admitted the sacrifices made by the city’s 2.4 million people and the “voices of complaint” over the government’s work. Dandong would now move into a “more proactive, more active and more effective” phase of pandemic control, Hao said.

The Dandong authorities were unable to stop the spread and took increasingly extreme measures, some without a clear scientific basis. For example, residents were advised to close their windows to prevent the wind from blowing the virus out of North Korea, even though the virus’s ability to spread through the air is very limited.

Authorities also cracked down on smuggling down the Yalu River with North Korea and offered cash rewards for information on individuals involved. China has long maintained that the virus spreads through packaging and other surfaces, despite a lack of evidence that it is a significant factor.

At one point, authorities moved residents of an entire apartment block into quarantine in the city of Shenyang, about 250 kilometers (150 miles) north of Dandong. When they were released, it was learned that the positive case that had motivated the decision had been from a neighbor in an adjoining building, which caused an angry confrontation between the residents and the authorities.

Although people have been allowed to go out to shop, there is no word on when normal work can resume, Li Yueqing, owner of a wood-processing factory in Dandong, said by phone. The regulations still require isolating any building where a case is detected, Li said.

“We understand that the epidemic situation in the city is still unstable. We don’t know exactly when we will be able to resume production,” he explained.

A restaurant worker said that the 50-day closure takes a big toll on revenue.

“Until now we haven’t received any instructions from the government about resuming the government, and our income is affected by doing nothing,” said the worker, who gave herself only her last name, Guo.

Long lockdowns have become the norm in the fight against COVID-19 in China, with the Shanghai case being the most prominent example. Most of the 25 million residents of China’s largest city spent two months or more confined to their homes or their closest neighborhood, and hundreds remain under restrictions.

The severity of the confinement in Shanghai and the apparent lack of preparation by the authorities led to confrontations between residents and officials at access controls, as well as pot-banging and shouting from windows and balconies. Criticisms of government policy have been posted on the Internet, often in formats designed to circumvent censorship software.

The easing of measures prompted an exodus from the city and foreign business officials said confidence in its future as an international business hub remained in doubt.

The management in the capital, Beijing, has been more moderate, perhaps for political reasons, although many students have been forced to attend classes remotely and a major shopping and nightlife district has closed after the detection of 287 cases associated with a nightclub.

Police said they were investigating two patrons of the club who allegedly ignored a stay-at-home order and left using a chauffeur-driven car rental service. They later tested positive, resulting in more than 300 people being confined.

Coronavirus infections have been on the rise in Hong Kong, which recorded 752 new cases on Tuesday, up from 505 cases on June 1. The city is preparing celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the British handover of the territory to China on July 1.

The Hong Kong authorities have tightened the measures and residents who want to visit bars and nightclubs from Thursday must present a negative result in a rapid antigen test from the previous 24 hours. Some 350 infections have been associated with bars and nightclubs since they were allowed to reopen last month.

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