At least 813 current or retired police officers in China’s Hubei Province—the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus epidemic—and their close family members have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to an internal government document obtained by The Epoch Times.
The document, dated Feb. 21, details how officials in Hubei are trying to cope with the crisis.
The tally includes 371 police officers, 61 retired officers, and 381 family members of officers, while another 277 officers are suspected to have the virus. At least four have died.
While limited, the data offers yet another glimpse of the dangers that police personnel face.
Controlling the Narrative
The officers are on the front lines of the official response to the outbreak. They are tasked with controlling public opinion to ensure it aligns with the regime’s narrative, which the Chinese regime commonly refers to by the euphemism “maintaining social stability.”
The cases among the police compound the challenge for the Chinese regime to contain the virus.
As of Feb. 21, as many as 120,000 police officers were stationed at all hospitals designated for treating COVID-19 patients, the nation’s police chief, Li Jingsheng, said at a Feb. 21 press conference. The officers are tasked with protecting doctors at the facilities, Li said, explaining that some coronavirus patients or their relatives may attack medical workers when they feel exasperated.
The document, however, reveals that the officers’ tasks go far beyond Li’s explanation.
Hubei has mobilized roughly 40,000 officers, who are assigned to 244 designated hospitals, 678 fever clinics, and 1,958 quarantine sites. They have arrested 84 people over outbreak-related criminal offenses, placed 39 people under home surveillance, detained 1,344 without trial, and issued other forms of punishment for 2,525 others.
Guns and Pens
Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, has been recruiting police personnel from other cities, according to videos and Chinese media reports. Qin Han, a New York-based political affairs commentator, says the move either indicates that Wuhan’s police force is severely reduced because of the infections, or that there is a growing need to maintain power and stability.
The province has also hired more than 1,600 censors to erase “sensitive” information about the virus on the internet.
The Feb. 21 internal document revealed that censors have deleted 3,248 “sensitive” or “harmful” posts and issued 199,000 “positive” posts about officials’ efforts. Meanwhile, the police have identified 610 cases of “rumors” and reprimanded 601 people involved.
The document stresses the importance of enhancing the security presence around government offices and virus treatment centers, strengthening internet censorship to eliminate rumors, and finding solutions for possible “stability-related” incidents.
“Police hold rifles, and rifles and pens complement each other,” Qin told The Epoch Times. “When lies don’t work, [police] resort to violence. When someone tries to speak about truths that go over the authorities’ limit, they will be put down.”
Li Wenliang, a doctor in Wuhan who tried to warn his medical peers about the dangers of the virus in late December, was tracked down by police. He was accused of making false statements and was forced to confess to the offense of “rumor-mongering.” He has since died of the disease after contracting it from a patient he was treating.
Two outspoken citizen journalists, Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin, have also gone missing after posting videos documenting the outbreak in Wuhan. After Fang captured footage of a van at a local hospital with eight bodies inside, police broke into his apartment and took him away. He hasn’t been heard from since.
Qin said that such arrests are common.
“The Chinese Communist Party, as usual, would not apologize [for its missteps] … if someone protests and raises a different voice, their first reaction is to arrest them,” he said.
He noted, however, that such forcible measures could create a backlash.
“With more problems brewing, the sentiment challenging [the Party] could only grow stronger,” he said.