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Tuesday July 23, 2024

Hundreds of retirees protest in China's Wuhan

Reforms to China's vast public health insurance system have reduced the allowances paid monthly to retirees since February 1

By AFP
February 15, 2023
Protests are rare in China, where authorities strictly enforce public order laws and opposition is quickly snuffed out.— AFP/file
Protests are rare in China, where authorities strictly enforce public order laws and opposition is quickly snuffed out.— AFP/file

BEIJING: Several hundred retirees staged a protest in the central Chinese city of Wuhan on Wednesday, according to witnesses and images on social media, following local anger over reforms to the public health insurance system.

Protests are rare in China, where authorities strictly enforce public order laws and opposition is quickly snuffed out.

But expressions of public anger do sometimes emerge, including large protests last year against strict COVID-19 rules, which have since been rescinded.

On Wednesday a crowd of demonstrators rallied in front of Wuhan's Zhongshan Park in the second such gathering in a week.

Video posted on social media showed security guards by the entrance to the popular scenic spot forming a human chain to prevent more demonstrators from entering.

Four witnesses confirmed the rally took place and AFP was able to geolocate footage online to areas around the park.

Reforms to China's vast public health insurance system have reduced the allowances paid monthly to retirees since February 1.

The changes prompted a separate rally of hundreds of retirees in front of Wuhan´s city hall last Wednesday.

Pictures shared on social media appeared to show local authorities meeting with some of those demonstrators for negotiations.

The insurance reforms, gradually introduced since 2021, come as local government finances are strained following years of strict and costly zero-Covid policies.

The protests in Wuhan — a city of 11 million people where the coronavirus first emerged in late 2019 — have been exacerbated by the fact that officials are largely unaffected by the reforms, analysts have said.

"Civil servants and public institution staff are still entitled to subsidised medical assistance insurance on top of the employee health insurance scheme," political risk consultancy firm SinoInsider said in a note.

"Senior and retired CCP (Chinese Communist Party) cadres have long had access to generous medical treatments at public expense and without having to pay for basic healthcare insurance."

Local governments could "compromise and meet protester demands early" rather than engage in a drawn-out dispute, the firm added.