China town mayor apologizes for COVID-19 lockdown response

BEIJING (AP) — The mayor of a northeastern Chinese city on the North Korean border that has been in lockdown for more than 50 days has apologized for failures in his administration’s job amid a widespread – but often disguised – dissatisfaction with the government’s heavy-handed approach to handling the pandemic.

Dandong Mayor Hao Jianjun gave no details but said the government’s work and basic services had been “unsatisfactory”, for which he apologized, according to a statement released Monday evening by the city ​​government.

It is highly unusual for a senior Communist Party official to publicly admit mistakes, especially regarding the sweeping “zero-COVID” policy that has been repeatedly endorsed by senior officials under President and Party Leader Xi. Jinping.

Despite only reporting a handful of cases, Dandong has seen one of the strictest lockdowns in China, with even deliveries of food and other necessities banned, according to unconfirmed reports. .

In his comments reported during a meeting with residents, Hao acknowledged the sacrifices made by the city’s 2.4 million citizens, as well as the “complaining voices” among them about the work of the government. Dandong would now enter a phase of pandemic control that would be “more proactive, more active and more efficient”, Hao said.

Unable to root out the source of the new cases, Dandong officials have taken increasingly extreme measures, some of dubious scientific value. This included advising residents to close their windows to prevent the virus from being blown in from North Korea, even though its ability to spread through the air is extremely limited.

Authorities have also cracked down on smuggling across the Yalu River with North Korea, offering cash inducements for information on those involved. China has long maintained that the virus spreads through packaging and other surfaces, despite little evidence showing it is a significant factor.

At one point, authorities also transported residents of an entire building under quarantine to the city of Shenyang, about 250 kilometers (150 miles) north of Dandong. Upon their release, the positive case triggering the move was discovered to be a resident of a nearby apartment building, leading to a violent confrontation between the residents and the authorities.

Residents have been allowed to go out for groceries, but no word has yet been given on when normal work can resume, said Li Yueqing, owner of a wood processing factory in Dandong, contacted by telephone. The rules still require any building where a positive case is found to be sealed, Li said.

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

A restaurant worker said the 50-day closure was significantly affecting revenue.

“So far, we still haven’t received an instruction from the government on restarting the business and our income has been affected by doing nothing,” said the worker, who only gave her name. family, Guo.

A staff member at a maritime training academy who gave only his surname, Zheng, said they remained closed as a precaution.

“The government feels it is best that we remain closed for longer, given the large number of trainees we have had. We don’t know when we will reopen,” Zheng said.

Long shutdowns have become the norm in China’s response to COVID-19, with Shanghai’s current predicament gaining the most notoriety. Most of the 25 million people in China’s biggest city and main financial center have been confined to their homes or immediate neighborhoods for two months or more and hundreds of thousands continue to face restrictions.

The severity of Shanghai’s lockdown and authorities’ apparent lack of preparedness have prompted clashes at checkpoints between residents and officials, and a series of nightly sessions of banging pots and shouting from balconies. Criticisms of government policy have been posted online, often in formats designed to thwart censorship software.

The easing of measures has prompted an exodus from the city and foreign business leaders say confidence in its future as an international business center remains in question.

The response in the capital Beijing was more nuanced, perhaps for political reasons, although many students were forced to take online courses and a major shopping and nightlife district was closed following the detection of 166 cases linked to a nightclub.

Testing is mandatory every day or every other day in most districts and failure to participate may result in the app flagging the health status of a person’s mobile phone, preventing them from access to public spaces.