Authorities have punished five officials for preventing a protest against banks by deliberately changing the status of health codes, preventing the activists from travelling.
The local anti-corruption authority in Zhengzhou, Henan province, said the officials misused the health codes, which have become a vital tool in China’s zero-Covid programme.
The case attracted national and overseas attention, given the importance of the health codes as China reels from economically damaging lockdowns and travel curbs due to the pandemic.
Since the start of the pandemic, localities across China have used colour-marked health codes to grant individuals access to public transport, hotels, and other basic amenities, using location trackers and other data to assess one’s exposure to the virus.
The local government announcement comes after depositors of small rural banks near Zhengzhou publicly alleged that their health codes abruptly changed from green to red when they began to travel to Zhengzhou to protest against blocked withdrawals.
Deposits in Yuzhou Xinminsheng Village Bank, Shangcai Huimin County Bank, Zhecheng Huanghuai Community Bank and New Oriental Country Bank of Kaifeng were frozen after officials uncovered what they saw as billions of yuan in illegal deposits made via online platforms.
The People’s Bank of China has said it is investigating the issue.
According to the statement, Feng Xianbin and Zhang Linlin, two officials from the city’s epidemic and control headquarters, “decided without authorisation” to change codes to red to stop 1,317 aggrieved depositors travelling to Zhengzhou.
Three other officials subsequently acted on Feng and Zhang’s orders.
As punishment, Feng was stripped of his party credentials, while the other officials were slapped with demerits, the statement quoted authorities as saying.
The officials “severely damaged the seriousness of the regulations governing the use of health codes,” the authorities said.
- Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell