BEIJING (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Beijing resident Summer Zhang’s heart sank when she was notified on Saturday (Nov 26) that one of her neighbours had tested positive for Covid-19.
This often meant a swift and sudden lockdown, with residents confined to their homes as officials from the neighbourhood committee, or juweihui, sealed off the building to prevent further infections.
This, however, was not what happened to Zhang and her neighbours, who confronted the community officials.
As the surge of infections in the Chinese capital puts more and more housing communities under lockdown, some Beijing residents are pushing back, challenging their community officials, whom they say are acting outside the bounds of their authority.
Zhang and some 30 neighbours demanded two things: proof that there was a positive case in the building, and an official notice from the district government certifying that the building was under lockdown.
“Without these things, they cannot lock down our building. If you have legal proof, I will comply. If not, why should I?” said the 39-year-old event planner.
The community officials were unable to provide what the residents wanted and allowed them to leave the premises.
Zhang and her neighbours complied with the lockdown restrictions only after official documentation was given to them on Sunday night.
Such confrontations have been playing out in some communities across Beijing over the past week.
Accounts or video clips of residents arguing with community officials have been circulating on Chinese social media, along with posts from lawyers explaining people’s legal rights.
“Today we confronted the juweihui and removed the Covid-19 containment notices. We are no longer under lockdown... we have recovered our freedom,” read one post on Weibo.
In a widely shared video clip, a lawyer is seen negotiating with a police officer, saying: “The juweihui does not have administrative powers. If it wants to restrict our freedom, it must be empowered by documentation from a government department.”
The neighbourhood committee is a grassroots organisation present in every residential community. While it is responsible for providing some day-to-day government services, it is not officially part of the government.
Yet during the pandemic, community officials are deployed to enforce containment measures.
But with infections being picked up at such a fast rate, higher levels of government seem unable to keep up with the issuing of the official documentation needed to enforce measures such as sealing off buildings, leaving the community officials in a bind.
Residents such as Zhang are taking advantage of this to push back against harsh lockdown, illustrating how Beijing is struggling to enforce containment measures at the grassroots level.
The city is currently dealing with its most severe outbreak since the start of the pandemic. It reported 3,860 cases on Sunday, down from the record 4,307 the day before.
Residents are also resisting government efforts to take positive cases to gymnasiums or convention centres that have been converted to mass quarantine facilities, known as fangcang, which are notorious for poor sanitation, scarce food supplies and medication.
In WeChat groups seen by The Straits Times, residents have signed declarations, saying they are willing to allow their neighbours who are infected to isolate at home.
At a regular press briefing on Sunday, Beijing officials promised to improve anti-Covid-19 measures, including banning the practice of barricading the gates and entrances of buildings and residential compounds in high-risk areas, and improving conditions in mass quarantine facilities.
In the meantime, they can expect no let-up in resistance from residents.
“After how people suffered in Shanghai in these mass quarantine facilities, people have lost faith in the zero-Covid-19 policies, and so we are standing up for our rights,” said Zhang.