A worker makes protective masks at a medical material manufacturer in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Jan. 28, 2020. (Xinhua/Cai Yang)
Some local authorities have been caught red-handed for abusing their power by intercepting medical supplies bound for areas facing higher pressure for epidemic control as a prolonged novel coronavirus outbreak has put the country's frontline medics and cities at the center of the epidemic in dire need of these materials.
In a latest case, Dali, a city in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, has come under fire for intercepting a shipment of masks meant for Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality and Huangshi in Central China's Hubei Province, epicenter of the epidemic.
Dali's health commission held up a batch of 598 boxes of masks sent from Yunnan to the Chongqing and Huangshi at the beginning of the week.
Huangshi government confirmed with the Global Times on Thursday that the batch included 20,000 masks bound for the city.
A total of 400 cases of the novel coronavirus had been confirmed in Chongqing, and 566 in Huangshi. There were eight cases confirmed in Dali as of Thursday noon.
Dali's practice has sparked fury among netizens.
"It is so selfish to only consider its own interests… What's the difference between this and grabbing another sick person's medicine when the latter is in a more serious condition?" a netizen commented.
On Thursday, the Yunnan provincial government criticized Dali government for the city's malpractice and ordered the immediate return of the requisitioned materials.
The city's health commission director Yang Yanchi was removed from the post, Dali government announced late Thursday.
Dali government also pledged to return 331 boxes of the masks and offer 990,000 yuan ($142,000) as compensation for the used masks, China Central Television reported Thursday.
Dali government's practices violate the Infectious Disease Prevention Act, Zhuang Deshui, a deputy director of the Research Center for Government Integrity-Building at Peking University, told the Global Times on Thursday.
The Act stipulates that only the State Council can requisition transregional goods. Local governments can only conduct the requisition within their own administrations.
Zhuang urged local governments to keep a clear mind and avoid regional protectionism especially when the whole country is racing to combat the epidemic.
"It is a test for government officials at all levels amid the national epidemic prevention and control work. The government should perform their duties according to law." Zhuang noted.
According to a document that the State Council issued on January 29, local governments should not intercept and retain key medical emergency prevention and control materials for any reason.
Another viral photo shows Qingdao Development and Reform Commission in East China's Shandong Province, issued a document on Tuesday asking Qingdao customs to intercept medical masks meant for Shenyang in Northeast China's Liaoning Province, as Shenyang held a batch of masks meant for a Qingdao company earlier.
Qingdao authorities said on Thursday the online document was a draft notice written on Monday upon the Qingdao company's emergency request. The draft was never issued as the government later deemed it inappropriate, but the document was uploaded online due to loose intra-management. The Qingdao company's shortage has been addressed, according to media reports.