Coronavirus: police, public clash as border reopens between Hubei and Jiangxi provinces

Sidney Leng

Chinese police officers from two different forces clashed with each other and members of the public on Friday in a dispute over the reopening of a provincial border, following weeks of lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

According to local government reports, the incident happened on the 1st Yangtze River Bridge that separates Huangmei county in Hubei – the province at the epicentre of the initial coronavirus outbreak – with the city of Jiujiang in Jiangxi.

In local media reports, witnesses were quoted as saying that police in Jiujiang set up a blockade on the bridge to stop people from Hubei crossing.

Video footage shared online showed rows of police armed with riot shields holding back the crowds, while members of the public could be seen damaging and even overturning police vehicles.

In a clip published by the Huanggang city government, which administers Huangmei, the county’s Communist Party chief Ma Yanzhou could be heard speaking to people through a loud hailer, warning them that by gathering in a large group they were increasing their chances of contracting the virus.

While it is unclear exactly how the clash started, police from the two sides each published an official statement online, though both were quickly deleted.

Video footage showed rows of police armed with riot shields holding back the crowds. Photo: Weibo

Hubei police said that officers from Jiangxi breached an agreement reached by the two provincial governments by crossing the border into Huangmei to check people’s health certificates and travel permissions before allowing them to cross the bridge.

For their part, Jiangxi police said the trouble started when a Hubei police officer was caught trying to prevent people in Huangmei getting on a bus that had been arranged to take them to Jiujiang railway station.

The incident underlines the problems China faces as it seeks a return to normal after months of lockdown. Under a directive from Beijing, as of Wednesday, anyone who had been stuck in Hubei, many of whom are not locals, was allowed to leave. The ruling did not apply to Wuhan, the provincial capital.

However, as Huangmei does not have a railway station, many people opted to cross the bridge into Jiujiang, which does.

The Jiujiang government said earlier that it had been providing free transport between the bridge and the railway station since Wednesday, and that from 6am to 8am on Friday, more than 1,000 people used the service.

Huangmei’s Communist Party chief Ma Yanzhou tells people that by gathering together they are increasing their chances of contracting the coronavirus. Photo: Weibo

On Friday evening, the governments of Huangmei and Jiujiang released a joint statement saying they had agreed to remove the barriers set up to restrict travel during the lockdown, and also to recognise each other’s health screening codes to make it easier for people in good health to get to where they needed to be.

An article by the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily acknowledged the problems in getting the country back on its feet.

“In the past few days, all walks of life have called for governments to accept workers from Hubei,” it said.

“However, it is undeniable that some places, intentionally or not, have set up obstacles for Hubei migrant workers to return to their posts and hold prejudices against them.”

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