Chinese academic warns there are legal risks to normalising Covid-19 testing

·3-min read

A Chinese law professor has spoken out about normalising compulsory Covid-19 testing, warning there are legal risks involved and a lack of transparency and supervision.

Zhao Hong, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, also said penalties recently announced by local authorities for not complying with testing orders were not supported by Chinese laws and could infringe on individual rights.

“‘Detention for not taking a nucleic acid test’ is not applicable under Article 50 of the Public Security Administration Punishment Law,” Zhao wrote in an opinion piece published on news website The Paper on Sunday.

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She was referring to last week’s announcement by the Siping government in Jilin province that residents who skipped two PCR tests would face 10 days of administrative detention, a 500 yuan (US$75) fine, and blacklisting. The city government’s directive was later withdrawn after public criticism.

The law professor said local governments did not have the right to declare a state of emergency in their area without permission, according to the Emergency Response Law and the Emergency Regulations for Public Health Emergencies.

A delivery worker gets tested in Shanghai, one of many places setting up permanent testing sites. Photo: Bloomberg
A delivery worker gets tested in Shanghai, one of many places setting up permanent testing sites. Photo: Bloomberg

Zhao also said there was no legal basis – and substantial legal risks – for normalising PCR testing, that it had huge financial and labour costs, and lacked transparency and adequate supervision.

“The choices and decisions made on any public policies affect individual rights and involve social costs,” she wrote. “This requires the government to adopt a ‘scientific, rational and cautious’ attitude in making decisions.”

As part of the Chinese government’s strict zero-Covid policy, millions of people have had to undergo regular mass testing when outbreaks occur. Many places, including Shanghai and Hangzhou, are now setting up permanent testing sites to make screening a part of everyday life.

Zhao did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

She is not the first legal expert to raise questions over China’s draconian Covid-19 controls, but unlike others – who have fallen foul of the censors – Zhao’s article has remained accessible on The Paper’s news distribution channels as well as via reposts on social media platforms like WeChat.

In May, a group of academics led by Tong Zhiwei, a professor at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, questioned the legality of curbs in the locked down city in a letter published online. The letter was later censored and Tong’s Weibo social media account was blocked, with all his previous posts deleted.

Zhao’s article coincided with a National Health Commission announcement on Sunday prohibiting local governments from imposing excessive pandemic prevention measures.

The article has stirred heated debate on Chinese social media, with some praising Zhao for criticising overzealous pandemic controls by local authorities.

“An expert with a conscience,” one person wrote in a chat room on the NetEase platform.

“We need more experts like her,” another commenter said.

Zhao specialises in administrative law and has previously commented on Beijing’s coronavirus policy in state media.

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