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China city mayor apologises over lockdown

The mayor of a northeastern Chinese city on the North Korean border that has been under lockdown for more than 50 days has apologised for failures in his administration’s work amid widespread – but often disguised – dissatisfaction over the government’s heavy-handed approach to handling the pandemic.

Dandong Mayor Hao Jianjun gave no specifics but said government work and basic services had been “unsatisfactory,” for which he offered his apologies, according to a statement issued by the city government.

It is highly unusual for a ranking Communist Party official to publicly concede errors, particularly regarding the hardline “zero-COVID” policy that has been repeatedly endorsed by top officials under President and party leader Xi Jinping.

Despite reporting only a handful of cases, Dandong has had one of the strictest lockdowns in China.

In his reported comments at a meeting with residents, Hao acknowledged the sacrifices made by the city’s 2.4 million citizens, along with the “complaining voices” among them over the government’s work.

Dandong would now be moving into a stage of pandemic control that would be “more proactive, more active and more effective,” Hao said.

Unable to root out the source of new cases, Dandong officials took increasingly extreme measures, some of them of questionable scientific merit.

That included recommending residents close their windows to prevent the virus 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 incentives for information on those involved.

Chinese officials have long held that the virus is spreading through packaging and other surfaces despite little evidence showing that is a significant factor.

Officials at one point also transported residents of an entire apartment block to quarantine in the city of Shenyang, about 250km north of Dandong.

Upon their release, it was discovered the positive case sparking the move had been in a resident of a neighbouring building, leading to an angry confrontation between the residents and authorities.

Residents have been permitted out to shop but no word has yet been given on when normal work can resume, said Li Yueqing, the owner of a wood processing factory in Dandong reached by phone.

Rules still demand that any building where a positive case is found will be sealed off, Li said.

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

A restaurant worker said the 50 days of closure is majorly affecting incomes.

“Up to now, we still haven’t received any instruction from the government on restarting business and our incomes have been affected by doing nothing,” said the worker, who gave only her surname, Guo.

A staffer at a maritime training academy who gave just his surname, Zheng, said they remained shuttered as a precautionary measure.

“The government feels it is better for us to remain closed longer, given the large number of trainees we have had. We have no idea when we will reopen,” Zheng said.

Lengthy lockdowns have become the norm in China’s COVID-19 response, with Shanghai’s ongoing predicament gaining the most notoriety.

Most of the 25 million residents of China’s largest city and key financial hub were confined to their homes or immediate neighbourhoods for two months or more and hundreds of thousands continue to remain under restrictions.

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