Coronavirus: border city chief dismissed for Covid-19 failures as Ruili continues to report new cases

Holly Chik
·3 min read

The top Communist Party official of Ruili, the Chinese city bordering Myanmar, has been dismissed from his post over “serious dereliction of duty” after failing to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks in recent months.

“Three Covid-19 outbreaks within half a year in Ruili, especially the epidemic in March, have severely undermined the epidemic control efforts in the country and the province, and seriously hurt the province’s economic and social development,” authorities in the southwestern province of Yunnan said in a statement on Thursday.

It said the dismissal of Gong Yunzun, the city’s party chief who bore the main responsibility for leading Covid-19 control efforts, should serve as a warning to other officials.

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It said the decision to demote Gong to a first-level researcher in the civil service was made after an investigation by provincial officials.

The dismissal came as the city reported 11 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, bringing the total ongoing outbreak to 76 cases.

The border city with 300,000 residents has run two rounds of mass testing and started a mass vaccination drive to control the outbreak.

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Zhu Jiangnan, an associate professor specialising in China studies at the University of Hong Kong, said that with the latest demotion, Beijing wanted to alert officials across the country about the importance of Covid-19 controls.

“Local governors are expected by the central government to watch over the situation with super care. Tight control of Covid-19 is considered crucial to the social and economic development of China, relaxation on it is not entertained,” she said.

“How well local governments can control Covid-19 is also considered a reflection of how closely they follow central government orders.”

The Ruili party chief is not the first Chinese official to be sacked over poor handling of virus outbreaks.

In January, the mayor of Wuhan stepped down nearly a year after the city became the first place in the world to be under Covid-19 lockdown. On Thursday, China marked one year since Wuhan lifted its strict lockdown that lasted 2.5 months.

After the initial cases were reported in late 2019 in Wuhan, which became the first epicentre of the global pandemic, Zhou Xianwang was among officials accused of a slow response and poor handling of the outbreak.

Zhou was criticised for allowing more than 40,000 people to attend a Lunar New Year gathering in Wuhan as the virus was spreading. He later admitted on state television that the city’s “warnings were not sufficient”.

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The mayor was also condemned for imposing a strict, sudden lockdown on Wuhan – a city of 11 million people – from January 23 last year. After millions of angry Chinese took to social media to call for his removal, Zhou said he and other officials were “willing to be sacked to appease the people as long as the pandemic is controlled”.

China has brought local outbreaks under control by imposing lockdowns, mass testing and contract tracing. It has also accelerated its vaccination campaign, with 145 million people inoculated against the virus as of Tuesday.

Strict border controls have also been in place to prevent imported infections and inbound travellers have had to take antibody tests before arriving and adhere to quarantine measures.

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