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'Malicious returnee' comes to haunt mayor

By Zhang Zhouxiang | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2022-01-21 19:16

The mayor of Dancheng county in Henan province has landed in the soup over his choice of words while warning against travel during the Spring Festival holiday, as administrations scramble to keep the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

"Anyone returning from a middle-or high-risk region will be detained after quarantine," Dong Hong was seen uttering in a video clip that went viral on social networking sites on Thursday.

After the video created a storm, Dong responded saying the video was edited and left out his main target — "malicious returnees who insist on going to their hometown despite dissuasion". That only triggered fiercer discussions, as many wanted to know who "malicious returnees" could be, adding that the word was discriminatory.

The mayor's determination to protect residents from the COVID-19 pandemic is understandable. There have long been calls asking those living in middle-or high-risk areas to avoid travelling, so as to prevent the virus from spreading. Inhabitants of such middle- or high-risk areas will any way find it difficult to travel, as they will need to quarantine for 14 days wherever they go.

That's why, it is okay for the mayor to oppose those in middle-or high-risk regions from travelling to their hometowns. But that does not justify his talk of detention or his coming up with the concept of "malicious returnee".

In any case, as a mayor, Dong is not empowered to detain anybody. Only the police can detain people who are breaking the law.

"Malicious returnee" shows a kind of contempt for those missing their homes. It's almost like suggesting that every resident of middle-or high-risk areas carries the COVID-19 virus and is going home with "malicious intentions" in order to spread it.

Therefore, Dong might have had the best of intentions, of protecting people from the virus, but he chose the wrong word. Some said that he uttered the words at an internal meeting of the local government, but he should have been careful with his choice of words there too.

Perhaps Dong can take inspiration from the neighboring Luyi county in Dancheng, where the local government released a video highlighting the difficulties faced by 300 medical staff members who are attending to over 300,000 residents and returnees. They have been sensitive enough to use a good slogan: "Every step towards home is worth celebrating, while every pair of hands working to fight the virus is worth cherishing."

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