Former NBA star Jeremy Lin, who plays for a Chinese team, was fined 10,000 yuan ($1,400) for “inappropriate remarks” on social media about quarantine facilities ahead of a game, China professional league announced Friday, as the government tries to stop protests against anti-virus controls that are among the world’s most stringent.
Also Friday, more cities eased restrictions, allowing shopping malls, supermarkets and other businesses to reopen following protests in Shanghai and other areas where some crowds called for President Xi Jinping to resign. Urumqi in the northwest, the site of a deadly fire that triggered the protests, announced supermarkets and other businesses were reopening.
Lin, who plays for the Loong Lions Basketball Club, made “inappropriate remarks about quarantine hotel-related facilities” where the team stayed Wednesday ahead of a game, the China Basketball Association announced. It said that it “caused adverse effects on the league and the competition area.”
The ruling Communist Party is trying to crush criticism of the human cost and disruption of its “zero-COVID” strategy, which has confined millions of people to their homes. Protesters have been detained, and photos and videos of events have been deleted from Chinese social media. Police fanned out across Shanghai, Beijing and other cities to try to prevent additional protests.
Demonstrations erupted on Nov. 25 after a fire in a Urumqi apartment building killed at least 10 people.
That set off angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other anti-virus controls. Authorities denied that, but the deaths became a focus of public frustration.
Xi’s government has promised to reduce the cost and disruption of controls but says it will stick with “zero-COVID.” Health experts and economists expect it to stay in place at least until mid-2023 and possibly into 2024 while millions of older people are vaccinated in preparation for lifting controls that keep most visitors out of China.
Urumqi will “further increase efforts to resume production and commerce” by reopening hotels, restaurants, large supermarkets and ski resorts, the official newspaper Guangming Daily reported on its website, citing Sui Rong, a member of the Municipal Committee.
Elsewhere, according to state media, the northern city of Hohhot in the Inner Mongolia region restarted bus service and allowed restaurants and small businesses to reopen. Jinzhou in the northeast lifted curbs on movement and allowed companies to reopen.
On Thursday, the metropolis of Guangzhou in the south, the biggest hotspot in the latest infection spike, allowed supermarkets and restaurants to reopen.
Other major cities, including Shijiazhuang in the north and Chengdu in the southwest, restarted bus and subway service and allowed businesses to reopen.
China’s central authorities have sought to rein in overzealous local officials, who are under intense pressure to proceed with an opening while preventing new outbreaks.
“Without approval, it is strictly forbidden to arbitrarily close schools and suspend classes, work and production, block traffic or enforce isolation measures,” the Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily said in an editorial Friday.
Officials who impose open-ended isolation measures without authorization will be “strictly held accountable in accordance with laws and regulations,” the newspaper said.