01/20/2021, 13.46
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Hebei, religious activities blocked: 'they spread Covid' (even if unproven)

by Wang Zhicheng

Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan issues order, after a visit to the province. Online posts against religions and Catholics are multiplying: their "development" endangers the "socialist system". Up until yesterday, over 800 positive cases have been recorded in Hebei, of which 771 in Shijiazhuang.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Covid-19 epidemic has reappeared in Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing. From 2 January until last night, over 800 positive cases were recorded. And although the origin of this new wave is not yet known, the Chinese Communist Party is blaming religious activities.

The series of new cases has emerged primarily in the countryside and villages, which are lacking prevention and medical services. But the fear is now that the pandemic will spread to the provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, which has already registered 771 cases, and from there to the state capital, Beijing. With this fear, the authorities launched a mass vaccination campaign (photo 1). In just three days, over 10 million people were vaccinated and all the inhabitants of the city (11.3 million) were tested.

Vice-premier Sun Chunlan (photo 2) visited the province from January 15 to 18 and urgently urged local authorities to implement preventive measures: control of travel to Beijing; within the province and in key areas, and above all "suspend religious gatherings" because "holding religious activities during the epidemic causes the spread of the virus".

However, she too admits that "the origin of the epidemic in Hebei is unknown" and invites "public security departments, industries and technology control offices to carry out epidemiological investigations".

Already in recent weeks, allegations had appeared that linked the new spread of the virus to religious activities. The village of Xiaoguozhuang, near Gaocheng (Shijiazhuang), was targeted, accused of inviting priests from Europe and the United States to preach in the village, and of bringing the virus back to China.

In response, on January 9, Shijiazhuang religious affairs offices denied that religious gatherings were the cause of the new wave. And they claimed that the rumor about European and American priests in Gaocheng was false.

The Patriotic Association of Catholics in Shijiazhuang also declared that the news about foreign priests is false and that the diocese is unrelated to the spread of the virus, specifying that so far "there is only one Catholic from Shijiazhuang who has been confirmed positive for the COVID-19".

Despite this, the authorities in Beijing have decided to close all 155 religious places and prohibit all gatherings of religious activities in the city and province.

The campaign against "religious activities" accused of being "infectors" of Covid-19 continues. Meanwhile, charges multiply on social media not only against religions in general, but precisely against Catholics. It must be said that Hebei is the region with the largest number of Catholics - over one million - who mostly belong to unofficial communities.

Among the various interventions, there is a long post by a certain Song Yangbiao, who, starting from the spread of the virus, accuses Christians of endangering "the socialist system". He is especially critical of unofficial communities and religious gatherings "which involve a large number of children". And finally he advises the head of the Religious Affairs Bureau, Ms. Li Zhanzhi, to resign because she is not a "true communist", having failed to block "the development of religion".

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