Beijing Reveals New Health Emergency Whistleblower Protections

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The Beijing city government announced on Sunday that it “would offer rewards to health workers who disclose vital information about any imminent health emergency,” according to a September 28 Reuters article.

The new policy is “part of the country’s efforts to fix some of the systemic faults that hindered its initial response to the COVID-19 outbreak.” Along with offering rewards to whistleblowers who report health emergencies, the city government also said that it would protect whistleblowers’ “safety and legal rights.”

Health workers “could, in urgent situations, skip the chain of command and report health risks directly to the local government.” Additionally, if whistleblowers were deemed not to have “malicious” intent, “they would not face punishment if information turned out to be false,” according to Reuters. The Beijing city government will also “strengthen its monitoring network, set up specialist infectious disease hospitals, and establish “sentries” at the community level to keep watch for symptoms like fever.”

The Chinese city of Wuhan had received criticism for the way officials dealt with health workers who report issues, like ophthalmologist Li Wenliang did when the COVID-19 virus began to spread. After Dr. Li noticed “seven cases of a virus that looked like Sars,” the virus that caused an epidemic in 2003, he alerted fellow doctors in a group chat about wearing protective gear on December 30, 2019, according to a BBC article. Four days later, Dr. Li was brought to the Public Security Bureau and forced to sign a letter admitting to accusations of “making false comments” that “severely disturbed the social order.” Dr. Li contracted COVID-19 and passed away on February 7, according to an article from South China Morning Post.

In May, the Chinese government said that it would “empower local disease control centres to take early action in the event of any new outbreak, though experts said the measures did not go far enough to address “systemic” flaws,” according to Reuters. The city of Shenzhen also recently announced “new guidelines allowing medical workers to disclose information about infectious diseases.”

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