Video of Chinese Officials Confiscating Supplies From Grocery Store in Virus-Hit City Sparks Outrage

Video of Chinese Officials Confiscating Supplies From Grocery Store in Virus-Hit City Sparks Outrage
This photo taken on Feb. 20, 2020 shows market supervision administer checking eggs in a supermarket as they monitor the price of commodities during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Huaibei in China's eastern Anhui province. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Cathy He

Surveillance footage of local officials allegedly looting a grocery store in a city within China’s virus epicenter has triggered a wave of anger online.

On Feb. 19, a shopkeeper from Ezhou City in Hubei Province posted on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, surveillance footage from his store showing several local government officers entering the premises, grabbing piles of supplies on display and behind the counter, and walking out with them.

At one point the owner appears to try and shutter his shop but is stopped by an officer, allowing his colleagues to enter and continue taking more goods.

The shop owner says in the video: “Today, local government officers started grabbing things as soon as they got inside the shop, saying that I opened the shop to carry out business.”

Businesses in the city are not allowed to open under the city’s lockdown measures, which were imposed in an effort to contain the worsening outbreak.

The owner said he only went into the store that day to get some noodles and other supplies for himself, and hadn’t opened his business at all during the lockdown.

“They came in and started snatching [things]. What is this behavior?” he said.

The video sparked a furious response from Chinese netizens, who accused the officers of abusing their power to confiscate goods for their own gain.

Since the deepening of the coronavirus crisis in China, several cities have granted officials the power to confiscate personal property as part of efforts to combat the outbreak.

The Ezhou government has since responded to the video saying officers “temporarily confiscated” the merchant’s goods, adding that the shopowner had opened his store in violation of lockdown regulations, local media reported. The goods have since been returned to the owner. An investigation has also been launched into this incident.

“If we are to say the shop really did operate in violation of regulations, then close the shop and punish it,” one netizen said. “If the temporary confiscation was legal, then why did they have to return the items?”

Since January, most regions of Hubei Province have been placed under varying degrees of a lockdown—affecting almost 60 million people.

There have been hints that the province as a whole is lacking in food supplies.

On Feb. 14, state broadcaster CCTV reported that authorities in Heilongjiang Province, located in northeastern China, quickly organized 3,000 tons of rice and shipped them to Hubei. On Feb. 16, the rice arrived at its destination.
And on Feb. 17, state-run outlet Xinhua reported that Jilin Province authorities gathered donations from local firms, totaling 100 tons of rice, for Wuhan. This is the second donation, after the province donated 500 tons of rice on Feb. 14. The report said that workers in Jilin worked day and night to package and ship the rice.
Meanwhile, residents in Wuhan City have begun to ask for food donations on social media, including rice, flour, vegetables, meat, fruits, and instant noodles.
Nicole Hao contributed to this report.
Cathy He is the politics editor at the Washington D.C. bureau. She was previously an editor for U.S.-China and a reporter covering U.S.-China relations.
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