Campus COVID measures climbdown after student protests


University authorities in Zhengzhou, capital of central China’s Henan Province, have backed down on what students called overly harsh measures when the campus was shut down this month.

China’s Ministry of Education and local education authorities have warned universities against imposing overly strict, lengthy or arbitrary anti-COVID measures unless campuses are classified as “high risk”.

The move comes as COVID restrictions in Zhengzhou, exacerbated by a labor dispute, sparked violent protests in the city this week. Thousands of police officers have been deployed at the city’s massive Foxconn manufacturing facility — the largest in the world, which makes Apple smartphones for the global market.

Zhengzhou is often referred to as “iPhone City” by locals. As a result of the factory protests, the city went into full lockdown on November 23.

China’s new wave of infections, which has hit major cities like Beijing, Guangzhou and Shijiazhuang, saw a one-day increase in new COVID cases by 31,444 on Nov. 24. It beats the previous peak in April, which led to a two-month lockdown in Shanghai.

It’s now the highest daily number since the initial Wuhan outbreak in late 2019, although testing wasn’t as widespread then as it is now.

While the main focus was on the riots at Foxconn, city authorities were keen to disperse the protests at the Zhengzhou university campus.

Peaceful protests erupted at Zhengzhou University on November 16 and at Huanghe Science and Technology University in Zhengzhou earlier this month when the university’s campus in Zhengzhou went under lockdown in late October. At the time, reported cases ranged from 20 to 30 per day across Henan province. On November 16, it rose to 3,000 cases in the city.

Classes were moved online and the lockdowns restricted movement between campuses and the rest of the city, a measure known as “closed-loop management.” According to online posts, students at Zhengzhou University protested at the time, saying they didn’t have warm clothes and blankets as the cold weather set in.

Tough campus measures despite city lifting lockdown

This month, students at the university protested the “chaotic” university management and shortages of food and supplies during the campus lockdown that began Oct. 9 in what is believed to be their third angry protest since the October lockdown.

They also called for delivery services to campus to be fully restored and public areas, including libraries and bathrooms, to be opened up. They also wanted an end to “compressed courses” — a reference to late start and early end of semesters.

But more far-reaching, they demanded openness and transparency from the university.

While some restrictions in the city of around 12 million were lifted by early November, students complained university authorities had “illegally” continued harsh measures.

The latest regulations from China’s National Health Commission, released Nov. 11, ban the “arbitrary closure” of schools and universities or the arbitrary suspension of classes and warn university administrations against “overreacting”.

Earlier this year, Beijing university and local government officials were ordered to calm campus unrest and ease draconian rules for university students in cities hit by strict COVID lockdowns as soon as conditions allow.

Some students at Zhengzhou University, who were reportedly given minus points this month for the earlier protests, claimed university authorities had not followed the more lenient policy of “low-risk” areas if the campus had no positive COVID-19 infections for five consecutive days. cases registered. as mandated by China’s National Health Commission.

They complained that they had been under lockdown restrictions for over 40 days without a break, despite changes in risk status.

At another university in Zhengzhou, Zhengzhou University of Aeronautics, the plight of some 30,000 teachers and students was highlighted when alumni released an open letter citing “strict and complex controls” on campus leading to a serious lack of materials for students.

Students flee campus

At Huanghe Science and Technology University in Zhengzhou, one of the country’s largest private universities, fears of an impending lockdown reportedly caused thousands of students to flee campus on Nov. 8 after confirmed COVID cases emerged at the university were.

Some students complained that they were detained at a train station in Zhengzhou to prevent them from leaving the city. This has been followed by an exodus of about 100,000 workers from Foxconn’s factory in the city since mid-October, which reportedly may have added to the panic of some students.

According to official media reports, some students said they wanted to leave after being denied permission to receive medical treatment.

This caused the authorities a headache. About 700,000 students study at colleges and universities in Zhengzhou, and large numbers are said to have attempted to leave the country.

According to official media, many cities in Henan Province have announced “emergency investigations” of returnees from Huanghe Science and Technology University, Zhengzhou Institute of Finance and Economics, Zhengzhou University, Zhengzhou University of Light Industry and other institutions and made “detailed reports.” .

The provincial Ministry of Education had to step in to quell tensions between students and university staff at the Huanghe campus for those left behind, protesting the sudden lockdown and inadequate supplies.

The provincial agency dispatched officials to take down the students’ complaints after angry confrontations between staff and students were leaked online.

In unusual dressing, Henan provincial authorities criticized the university for not “accurately” grasping the COVID situation. The official China DailyOn November 10, the headline read “University Corrects COVID ‘Mistakes’.”

Dong Yumin, an official at the provincial Ministry of Education, was quoted as saying China Daily stating that university staff “will send food to every student.”

Online commentators said provincial authorities are keen to provide an example of how complaints are handled at the university.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China this month enacted around 20 new prevention and control measures to minimize the impact of pandemic control on the economy and society while protecting health and safety, students have referred to in their angry exchanges with the university Officer.

Education departments have set up grievance platforms and hotlines to quickly process campus grievances and resolve issues to defuse the build-up of campus tension.

The Ministry of Education, provincial and prefectural-level education departments will set up special working groups to “one-by-one investigate” arbitrary campus closures, prolonged closures, long periods without offline teaching, lack of life safety and inspections. [that affect] Families of teachers, students and employees,” the National Health Commission said.

But a student in town contacted by News from the university world suggested that universities could easily lift and later re-impose restrictions on visits by inspection teams.

Yojana Sharma, News from the university world Asia Editor, contributed to this article.