Guangzhou and Shenzhen, two of southern China’s biggest cities, have been given the authority to requisition private property to help fight the spread of the deadly new coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the provincial legislature of Guangdong, where the two cities are located, also passed a bill to ban all trade in wildlife, which has been linked to a number of outbreaks of disease.
The southern province, a major economic powerhouse, has the highest number of confirmed cases in the country outside Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, reaching 1,177 confirmed cases by Monday.
Most of the cases are concentrated in the two cities, with 375 confirmed cases in Shenzhen, which neighbours Hong Kong, and 317 in Guangzhou, the provincial capital.
Last week Chinese President Xi Jinping told all levels of governments to fight the outbreak in a “law-based, scientific and orderly manner”.
Municipal legislatures in the two cities met early on Tuesday and approved similar bills with provisions to mobilise governments, companies and individuals to fight the virus, which has so far killed more than a thousand people and infected more than 40,000.
The Shenzhen and Guangzhou bills grant city and district governments the authority to requisition houses, public venues and vehicles from individuals or companies, and to order business to produce items needed to control the disease.
The provision also required the governments to issue official requisition documents to the property owners, and return the items or compensate owners in accordance with the law.
China introduced a national law to protect private property rights in 2007, a move which was seen as a key milestone of the country’s reform and opening up programme that began in the 1980s.
But the Property Law also included a clause that states property belonging to companies and individuals can be requisitioned by the government in cases of emergency, but the owners should be compensated or have it returned after use.
As hospitals run out of space and medical supplies and medical staff come under increasing stress, local governments have been looking for spaces to isolate patients in the hope of stopping the disease spreading.
Local governments around the country have been preparing fallback plans after seeing how Wuhan’s system struggled to cope amid shortages of medical supplies and hospital space, and have been looking to follow the cities lead by turning dormitories and gym into temporary wards that can take in patients with mild symptoms.
Other areas covered in the new laws include powers to quarantine and treat suspected cases and their close contacts, close down public venues and events and give business permission to return to work.
The police have been given the power to force people into quarantine and provide information to local disease control centres.
The Guangdong provincial legislature’s bill does not explicitly grant the authorities power to requisition property, but does enable lower level authorities to introduce temporary measures covering quarantine, transport and commerce.
The provincial law also requires local governments and communities to strengthen management and check-ups, register and closely monitor individuals and report any abnormalities, strictly ban trade and consumption of wild game, and punish acts that prevent diagnosis and treatment by medical professionals.
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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.