China suspends social media accounts of critics of COVID policy | Coronavirus pandemic news

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China has suspended or closed the social media accounts of more than 1,000 critics of the government’s COVID-19 policies, as the country moves to roll back tough anti-virus restrictions.

The popular social media platform Sina Weibo said it had dealt with 12,854 violations, including attacks on experts, scholars and medical workers and had issued temporary or permanent bans on 1,120 account, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The ruling Communist Party relied heavily on the medical community to justify the strict lockdowns, quarantine measures and mass testing, many of which abruptly left last month. went, leading to an increase in new cases that have stretched medical resources to their limits.

The company will “continue to expand the investigation and cleanup of all kinds of illegal content, and create a friendly and user-friendly community environment for the majority of users,” Sina Weibo said in a statement on Thursday, as reported by the AP.

Criticism has focused heavily on the implementation of heavy-handed rules, including open-ended travel restrictions that have seen people stay in their homes for weeks, sometimes sealed inside without food or appropriate medical care.

There was also anger at the requirement that anyone who might be positive or who had been in contact with such a person be confined for observation in a field hospital, where overcrowding, poor food and to call hygiene.

Amid the mounting social and economic costs, street protests were rare in Beijing and other cities.

As part of the latest changes, China will also not bring criminal charges against people accused of violating border quarantine rules, according to a notice issued by five government departments on Saturday.

People currently in custody will be released and assets will be seized, the release said.

The changes “were made after extensive consideration of the harm they bring to society, and are aimed at adapting to the new conditions of epidemic prevention and control,” the official website of the China newspaper said. Daily.

China travelers
People outside a Beijing railway station as the annual spring festival travel rush begins amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Beijing, China, 7 January 2023 [Tingshu Wang/Reuters]

China is facing a surge in cases and hospitalizations in major cities and could see further spread to other parts of the country with the start of the Lunar New Year travel rush, which is expected to begin in the coming days. . The public holiday, which officially runs from January 21, is the first since 2020 without domestic travel restrictions.

While international flights remain reduced, authorities expect domestic rail and air travel to double over the same period last year, bringing totals close to those of the 2019 holiday season. before the pandemic hit.

The transport ministry on Friday called on travelers to reduce trips and gatherings, especially if they include the elderly, pregnant women, small children and those with basic conditions.

People using public transportation are also asked to wear masks and pay special attention to their health and personal hygiene, Vice Minister Xu Chengguang told reporters at a briefing.

Nevertheless, China is moving forward with a plan to end mandatory quarantines for people arriving abroad on Sunday.

Beijing also plans to waive a requirement for students at city schools to test negative for COVID-19 to enter campus when classes resume on February 13 after the holiday break. Although schools will be allowed to move classes online if new incidents occur, they must return to in-person instruction as soon as possible, the city’s education bureau said in a statement Friday.

However, the end of mass testing, little basic data such as the number of deaths, infections and serious cases, and the possibility of new changes have prompted governments elsewhere to establish virus testing requirements for travel from China.

More than a dozen countries have imposed new travel rules on travelers from China.

European Union experts this week “strongly encouraged” the bloc’s 27 member states to require COVID tests from people on flights from China and to carry out random tests on arrival.

Several EU countries – including Germany, France, Germany, Italy and Spain – have announced COVID testing requirements for travelers arriving from the Asian country.

The United States and Japan are among the non-European countries that have introduced similar measures.

China has said the testing requirements imposed by foreign governments are not based on science and has threatened unspecified measures.

Patients in a hospital emergency department
Patients lie on beds in a hospital emergency department, amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Shanghai, China, January 5, 2023 [File: Reuters]

The World Health Organization has also expressed concern about the lack of data from China. Chinese health authorities publish a daily tally of new cases, actual cases and deaths, but these numbers only include officially confirmed cases and use a very narrow definition of deaths related to COVID.

Authorities say that since the government ended mandatory testing and allowed people with mild symptoms to self-test and recover at home, they can no longer provide a complete picture of the state of the outbreak. latest release.

On Saturday, the National Health Commission reported 10,681 new domestic cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 482,057. Three deaths were also reported over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 5,267.

The numbers are much smaller than the estimates published by some local governments. Zhejiang, a province on the east coast, said on Tuesday it was seeing about a million new cases a day.

Officials in Beijing have said the situation is under control, rejecting allegations of a lack of preparation for reopening.

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