China's Dali govt apologises for taking and distributing masks meant for Chongqing

Workers in a mask production line at a factory in Shanghai on Friday. China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said the country produces eight million masks every day.
PHOTO: Reuters

The government of Dali, Yunnan province, apologised on Thursday for the wrongful requisition of face masks that were meant for the city of Chongqing to fight the coronavirus outbreak, saying it will return the remaining masks to Chongqing and make up for those that have been distributed and used.

It said the city was in dire need of medical materials to fight the outbreak as the amount of such materials was not enough to meet even the basic needs for workers in Dali.

As the city's own purchase was not in place, it commandeered the masks-which had incomplete paperwork-for a price and distributed them to local medical facilities, community workers, police and so on.

Dali will return the rest of the masks-331 of 598 boxes-to Chongqing and has paid a compensation of 990,300 yuan (S$196,480) for the ones that have been allocated and used.

Yang Yanchi, director of the Dali Health Bureau, has been stripped of his position.

On Thursday afternoon, Yunnan circulated a notice of criticism to the Dali government and its health bureau for its wrongdoings and asked them to return the goods to Chongqing immediately.

Dealing with the novel coronavirus epidemic since January, almost all cities across the country are facing a shortage of prevention and control materials, such as masks, preventive suits and goggles.

On Sunday, the Dali Health Bureau issued a notice of emergency requisition to a logistics company that was sending 598 boxes of masks from Ruili, Yunnan, to neighbouring Chongqing as the goods were crossing the area of Dali.

Those masks were purchased by Chongqing companies from an overseas market to help the Chongqing government fight the epidemic.

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The notice said that due to the outbreak, Dali has activated its first-level public health emergency response, and the city is short of epidemic prevention and control materials.

According to related laws, the Dali government decided to requisition the masks sent to Chongqing.

On Monday, the Chongqing Leading Group for Novel Coronavirus Prevention and Control, the government agency responsible for virus control, sent an official letter to the Dali health bureau asking them to return the masks, but their request was denied, according to Beijing News.

"Dali's misconduct seriously affected the epidemic control work of Chongqing and hurt the feelings of its people," according to the circular issued by the Yunnan Leading Group for Novel Coronavirus Prevention and Control.

"Other cities and departments in the province should learn from this lesson and bear the overall situation in mind."

Chongqing, a city of 30 million people, is facing an uphill battle to control the epidemic as it has close transport ties to Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak.

As of midnight Wednesday, Chongqing had 389 confirmed novel coronavirus cases and Dali had eight.

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The expropriation of Chongqing medical supplies in Dali has raised heated public discussion and criticism, with experts saying it is unlawful.

Zhao Peng, deputy director of the Research Center for Government by Law at China University of Political Science and Law, said that governments do have the right to requisition goods in order to control the epidemic, according to relevant laws.

"But the county-level governments can only requisition the goods within their own administrative region. The expropriation of the goods from other parts of the country need to be operated by the State Council," he was quoted as saying by Beijing News.

The goods in transportation belong to cross-regional goods, so only the State Council has the right to requisition them, he added.

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