BEIJING: 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 harsh anti-virus restrictions.
The popular Sina Weibo social media platform said it had addressed 12,854 violations, including attacks on experts, scholars and medical workers and issued temporary or permanent bans on 1,120 accounts, The Associated Press news agency reported.
The ruling Communist Party had largely relied on the medical community to justify its tough lockdowns, quarantine measures and mass testing, much of which it abruptly abandoned last month, leading to a surge in new cases that have stretched medical resources to their limits.
The company “will continue to increase the investigation and cleanup of all kinds of illegal content, and create a harmonious and friendly community environment for the majority of users”, Sina Weibo said in a statement on Thursday, as cited by the AP.
Criticism has largely focused on heavy-handed enforcement of regulations, including open-ended travel restrictions that saw people confined to their homes for weeks, sometimes sealed inside without adequate food or medical care.
There was also anger over the requirement that anyone who potentially tested positive or had been in contact with such a person be confined for observation in a field hospital, where overcrowding, poor food and hygiene were cited.
As part of the latest changes, China will also no longer bring criminal charges against people accused of violating border quarantine regulations, according to a notice issued by five government departments on Saturday.
Individuals currently in custody will be released and seized assets returned, the notice said.
The adjustments “were made after comprehensively considering the harm of the behaviors to the society, and aim to adapt to the new situations of the epidemic prevention and control”, the official China Daily newspaper’s website reported.
China is facing a surge in cases and hospitalizations in big cities and could see a further spread into other areas 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, will be the first since 2020 without domestic travel restrictions.
While international flights are still reduced, authorities expect domestic rail and air journeys to double over the same period last year, bringing overall numbers close to those of the 2019 holiday period before the pandemic hit.
People using public transport are also urged to wear masks and pay special attention to their health and personal hygiene, Vice Minister Xu Chengguang told reporters at a briefing.
Nonetheless, China is forging ahead with a plan to end mandatory quarantines for people arriving from abroad on Sunday.
Beijing also plans to drop a requirement for students at city schools to have a negative COVID-19 test to enter campus when classes resume on February 13 after the holiday break. While schools will be allowed to move classes online in the event of new outbreaks, they must return to in-person instruction as soon as possible, the city education bureau said in a statement on Friday. (Int’l News Desk)