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China and Covid19

China’s Bubble Operation Olympics: What is the “Closed Loop Management System”?

Beijing 2022 is all about being ‘together’ but Covid-19 safety and prevention measures will keep athletes in their own Olympic bubble.

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Olympic venue in Yanqing District, image via Xinhuanet.

Participants of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will be required to stay within their own bubble.

The term “closed-loop management” (闭环管理) or “closed-loop system” made headlines this month after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Beijing organizers released a joint statement on COVID-19 measures during the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in China in February and March of 2022.

Although a more detailed ‘playbook’ will be released later in October (and another one in December), the latest announcement clarifies that there will be strict COVID-19 countermeasures for Beijing 2022, where a ‘biosecure bubble’ will be established for all participants.

For one, spectators from outside of mainland China will not be allowed to attend. Chinese residents can purchase tickets for the Olympics as long as they follow the protocols, which will be further specified later on.

Although full vaccination is strongly encouraged, it is not a precondition to participation for athletes. Those who are not fully vaccinated, however, will have to undergo a 21-day quarantine upon arrival. All participants will be subjected to daily COVID-19 testing.

Fully vaccinated athletes and Games participants will enter the so-called closed-loop management system upon arrival.

This basically means that starting from two weeks before the Opening Ceremony, all participants – from athletes to official delegations and accredited media – will be strictly confined to designated areas.

The closed-loop management system

The closed-loop management system for the Olympics means that all participants will only be allowed to move between Games-related venues for their training, catering, accommodation, etc. They will do so through a dedicated Games transport system.

This also means that participants definitely will not be allowed to leave their designated areas – no dumplings in the hutongs and no beers at Bar Street!

For many Chinese residents, such a closed-loop management system is not new. After the initial lockdown phase in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, the ‘Covid-19 closed-loop management’ (新冠疫情闭环管理) has been applied to various areas when there were new local cases of COVID-19.

In early August of 2021, for example, there was a closed-loop management system for residential areas in Zhengzhou after local COVID-19 cases. In late August this year, residential areas in Songjiang district in Shanghai were also closed off in the same way. The same measures were implemented in the city of Xiamen in September of 2021 after 13 new cases of COVID-19 were detected in the region.

The most important thing the closed-loop approach does is creating a barrier between an ‘inside’ community and the ‘outside’ world, with very strict checks on who can enter and exit the area, and usually a ban on group gatherings within the area.

Residents sometimes get an access card to enter/exit the district, but any outsiders, including couriers and delivery staff, are not allowed inside the closed surroundings.

The closed-loop measure is not the same as a lockdown (“封城”) like the one in Wuhan. The main goal is of the closed-loop ‘bubble’ approach is to limit and reduce the flow of people and their movements within an area in order to cut off the source of infection as soon as possible.

In previous bubble areas, residents would also get a “red” code in their health app, which is required at digital check-ins to assess people’s COVID-19 risk status. Those with a red code will not be allowed access and are required to return home.

The ‘bubble operation’ for the Winter Olympics will start on January 23, 2022, and will be implemented until the end of the Winter Paralympic Games. The secure Olympic environment does not just protect Games participants from getting COVID-19 through an outside source, it also prevents possible COVID-19 cases from spreading beyond the Olympic area and limits the risks of infections within the Games bubble.

The Winter Olympics 2022 will take place in Beijing central, Yanqing District, and in Zhangjiakou in Hebei.

On social media site Weibo, the hashtag “Beijing Winter Olympic Games Will Implement Closed-loop Management” (#北京冬奥会将实施闭环管理#) received 15 million views and thousands of comments, with many supporting the strict measures – arguing that Chinese locals also need to be protected from foreigners who come from countries where preventive, protective or containment Covid-19 measures are not actively implemented.

The hashtag also triggered some anti-American sentiments, with some netizens suggesting that American athletes should be quarantined for a longer time, or should even stay in their own separate U.S. Olympic bubble. But those kinds of sentiments do not resonate with the official slogan of Beijing 2022, which stresses the idea of standing side by side: “Together for a shared future.”

By Manya Koetse

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

Confusion over Official Media Report on China’s “Next Five Years” of Zero Covid Policy

Netizens interpreted this as a sign that China’s current Covid strategy would continue at least five more years.

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‘The next five years’: four words that flooded Chinese social media today and caused commotion among netizens who interpreted this as written proof that China’s current Covid strategy would continue for at least five more years. But the Beijing Daily editor-in-chief has since responded to the issue, blaming reporters for getting it all mixed up.

On June 27th, after the start of the 13th Beijing Municipal Party Congress, Chinese state media outlet Beijing Daily (北京日报) published an online news article about a report delivered by Beijing’s Party chief Cai Qi (蔡奇).

The article zoomed in on what the report said about Beijing’s ongoing efforts in light of China’s zero-Covid policy, and introduced Beijing’s epidemic prevention strategy as relating to “the coming five years” (“未来五年”).

Those four words then flooded social media and caused commotion among netizens who interpreted this as a sign that China’s current Covid strategy would continue at least five more years. Many people wrote that the idea of living with the current measures for so many years shocked and scared them.

Soon after, the article suddenly changed, and the controversial “coming five years” was left out, which also led to speculation.

Beijing Times editor-in-chief Zhao Jingyun (赵靖云) then clarified the situation in a social media post, claiming that it was basically an error made due to the carelessness of reporters who already filled in information before actually receiving the report:

I can explain this with some authority: the four-word phrase “the next five years” was indeed not included in the report, but was added by our reporter[s] by mistake. Why did they add this by mistake? It’s funny, because in order to win some time, they dismantled the report’s key points and made a template in advance that “in the next five years” such and such will be done, putting it in paragraph by paragraph, and also putting in “insist on normalized epidemic prevention and control” without even thinking about it. This is indeed an operational error at the media level, and if you say that our people lack professionalism, I get it, but I just hope that people will stop magnifying this mistake by passing on the wrong information.”

Global Times commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进), who used to be the editor-in-chief and party secretary of the state media outlet, also weighed in on the incident in a social media post on Monday. He started his post by saying that the reporter who initially made the phrase ‘next five year’ go viral had a “lack of professionalism” which caused the overall misunderstanding.

Hu also added a photo of the relevant page within the original report that was delivered at the Congress, showing that the phrase ‘the coming five years’ was indeed not written before the segment on China’s battle against Covid, which detailed Beijing’s commitment to its strict epidemic prevention and control measures.

But Hu also added some nuance to the confusion and how it came about. The original report indeed generally focuses on Beijing developments of the past five years and the next five years, but adding the “in the next five years” phrase right before the segment was a confusing emphasis only added by the reporter, changing the meaning of the text.

Hu noted that the right way to interpret the report’s segment about China’s Covid battle is that it clarifies that the battle against the virus is not over and that China will continue to fight Covid – but that does not mean that Beijing will stick to its current zero Covid policy for the next five years to come, including its local lockdowns and restrictions on movement.

Hu Xijin wrote:

I really do not believe that the city of Beijing would allow the situation as it has been for the past two months or so go on for another five years. That would be unbearable for the people of Beijing, it would be too much for the city’s economy, and it would have a negative impact on the whole country. So it’s unlikely that Beijing would come up with such a negative plan now, and I’m convinced that those in charge of managing the city will plan and strive to achieve a more morale-boosting five years ahead.”

After the apparent error was set straight, netizens reflected on the online panic and confusion that had erupted over just four words. Some said that the general panic showed how sensitive and nervous people had become in times of Covid. Others were certain that the term “next five years” would be banned from Weibo. Many just said that they still needed time to recover from the shock they felt.

“The peoples’ reactions today really show how fed up everyone is with the ‘disease prevention’ – if you want to know what the people think, this is what they think,” one Weibo user from Beijing wrote.

To read more about Covid-19 in China, check our articles here.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

The Curious Case of the Henan Bank Depositors and the Changing Health QR Codes

“It must be American hackers who did this, right?”, some Weibo commenters wrote in light of the miraculously changing Health Codes.

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Where can people turn to once their money seems to have gone up in flames? How could Health Codes randomly turn from green to red? And who will stand up for justice? These are the questions asked by Chinese netizens in the Henan bank depositors case that is making headlines this week.

This week, the story of a Henan banking scandal and depositors’ Health Codes suddenly turning red triggered online discussions in China and even made international headlines.

In between online deposit products, financial platforms, regional banks, and Health Code systems, the story is a bit messy. Here, we’ll explain the story and its latest developments.

 

DUPED DEPOSITORS

 

The story starts in April of this year when people discovered that they were unable to withdraw money they had invested in online deposit products offered by various smaller regional banks.

Some people had deposited money via the Baidu money app (Du Xiaoman Financial 度小满), others had used another third-party platform, intermediaries, or one of the mini-programs run by the banks themselves.

By early May, it had become clear that dozens of depositors who once thought they had invested their money wisely had actually been duped. Four of the banks involved are located in Henan province, namely: the Yuzhou Xinminsheng Village Bank (禹州新民生村镇银行), Shangcai Huimin County Bank (上蔡惠民村镇银行), Zhecheng Huanghuai Community Bank (柘城黄淮村镇银行), and the Kaifeng New Oriental Country Bank (开封新东方村镇银行).

But there are also other smaller banks involved, including Guzhen Xinhuaihe Rural Bank (固镇新淮河村镇银行) and Yixian Xinhuaihe Rural Bank (黟县新淮河村镇银行) in Anhui.

As reported by South China Morning Post by late May, multiple customers had confirmed that they had not been able to withdraw funds either online or in person.

The sudden apparent closure of their withdrawal channels set off a wave of panic among depositors, who then protested in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou on May 23rd, demanding the return of their money.

Yang Huajun (杨华军), deputy director of the Henan branch of China’s Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC), arrived at the scene of the protests and – speaking through a megaphone – promised the demonstrators that as long as their funds were “legally” deposited, they would be protected by law.

Many depositers, however, were unsure of whether or not their deposits were actually made in a “legal” way and what the definition of “legal” entailed in this case.

Over the past years, Chinese smaller rural banks have partnered with online platforms, often offering relatively high returns, in order to boost their deposit-reliant funding base.

In December of 2020, platforms Alipay, Du Xiaoman Financial, JD.com and Tencent Wealth Management all suspended the sale of online deposit products via their financial apps in light of heightened scrutiny from regulators concerning funds raised by unstable smaller lenders.

The smaller banks that are now at the center of the recent financial scandal then (illegally) reached out to their existing customers directly after December 2020 and convinced them to download the banks’ apps in order to deposit even more money.

One of the persons duped is Mr. Sun from Shenzhen. As reported by Sina Finance, it was in 2020 when Sun came across a seemingly attractive online saving product via the Du Xiaoman Financial app. Although Sun was not familiar with the banks in question, namely the Yuzhou Xinminsheng Village Bank and Shangcai Huimin County Bank, he could not resist the deposit interest rate of 4.6%, which was much better than what the big banks were offering at the time.

In early 2021, Mr. Sun received a text message from Yuzhou Xinminsheng Village Bank saying that although the financial products had been taken offline, users would still be able to deposit through the bank’s own online application. Mr. Sun ended up depositing his entire savings into the Henan-based rural bank, thousands of miles away from his own home.

And then, earlier this year, Sun came across the news that Henan New Wealth Group, the primary shareholder of all banks involved, was under investigation for fraudulous practices. When he opened up his online financial application, there was nothing to see but a notice that the system was under maintenance. Sun could no longer access his funds. Hundreds of other customers were seeing the same empty screens.

According to media reports, the current suspected scam case affects some 400,000 customers of seven local banks and involves a money sum of 40 billion yuan ($5,6 billion).

 

IN THE RED

 

As thousands of depositors have been fighting to recover their savings over the past two months, they were duped a second time earlier this week. Dozens of affected depositors claimed they had seen their Health Codes turn red without any logical reason on June 13 or June 14 – the day of a planned protest.

In China’s Covid era, the Health Code system has become a pivotal tool in the country’s battle to contain the spread of the virus. The Health Code system is embedded in various apps, most importantly in Wechat and Alipay, and uses various data to assess an individual’s exposure risk. There is not one unified national Health Code application; they are developed by different actors and their management is different across Chinese provinces and cities.

If there is no detected risk, an individual is assigned a Green QR Code and is allowed access into any venue or location where a QR code scan is mandatory. With a Yellow Code, you should stay home for a week, and Red Code means you are high risk and need to quarantine for 14 days – this severely limits your freedom to move around and travel.

On June 13th, many affected investors saw their Health Code turn red when arriving in Zhengzhou, where they were allegedly coming to retrieve their savings and protest the injustice they suffered. The QR code color change was unexpected and strange, considering that there were no new reported Covid cases in their vicinity and also considering the fact that accompanying family members who made the exact same journey did not see their Health Codes change.

This raised suspicions that the duped depositors were specifically targeted, and that their Health Codes were being manipulated by authorities.

CNN reported that many distributors who had come to Zhengzhou were taken to a guarded quarantine hotel before being sent back to their hometowns via train the next day. According to a Chinese media report by Nanfang Daily, the depositors were not even asked to do nucleic acid testing and were told by local staff that they would get their Green Code back as soon as they left Henan.

Various media report that minimally 200 depositors saw their Health Code change from Green to Red earlier this week.

 

“OPERATION CODE RED”

 

The curious case of the Henan depositors scandal and the changing Health Code colors has become a trending topic on Chinese social media this week.

The topic of the duped depositors was also discussed online before this week, and it brought back memories of earlier financial scandals, such as the P2P chaos that occurred back in 2018.

But the topic of depositors’ Health Codes changing to Red is something that attracted much wider discussions on the apparent abuse of a system that has now become a part of everyday life for people in China’s Covid era.

The main proof for people that the Henan depositors were targeted in this apparent “Operation Code Red” is that, as mentioned before, the family members that were traveling together with the duped depositors never saw a change in their Health Code: those people who were listed on the affected regional banks’ depositors list were seemingly singled out and purposely targeted.

“Who is in charge of changing the Health Code colors?” became a much-asked question on Weibo, with many blaming local Henan authorities for abusing their powers to try and stop protesters from raising their voices in Zhengzhou. One Weibo post on this issue received over 1,6 million views. Meanwhile, Henan authorities still said they did “not understand” what had happened.

“It must be American hackers who did this, right?”, some Weibo commenters wrote, putting in a sarcastically smiling emoji, with others adding: “No, the aliens did this – it must have been the aliens!”

Others wrote that the situation at hand should be simple to figure out: “There is no way that this is an oversight or a data error. If you want to know who did this, look at who or which department has the authority to manage both epidemic prevention measures as well as finance affairs.”

Many comments also showed a sense of disillusionment with how China’s Covid management affects the people: “After seeing the chaos during the Shanghai lockdown, this does not even surprise me anymore,” one person wrote on Weibo: “All we can do is pray that it won’t happen to us.”

“Why is Henan’s “messy Red Code” incident so extremely vile and scary? Because once a person or institution holding public power looks at you in a bad light, they can give you a Red Code and take you away, in the name of legality. This is the evil that comes from unmonitored power,” one blogger from Anhui wrote.

Other people also worried about foreign media reporting on this issue, saying this incident is being used to cast China in a bad light while local authorities are to blame: “We should unify the Health Code system into a national system in order to avoid this from happening again.”

According to Chinese state media reports, the case has now been forwarded to the Health Commission of Henan Province for further investigation.

We will keep tracking upcoming developments. Meanwhile, check out our other reports on trending topics relating to China’s banking and finance here. For more about Covid-related trending topics, check here.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Image via Weibo

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

References (all other sources included in hyperlinks)

Lee, Amanda. 2022. “Rural Banks Freeze Customers’ Accounts.” South China Morning Post, May 31.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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