In China’s Hebei province, local Christians and foreign missionaries are being blamed for a resurgence of COVID-19 infections that resulted in a strict lockdown enacted on Jan. 6.
Asia News reported on a conversation between a local priest and a member of his parish, showing that there has been a post circulating on social media singling Christians out as the source of the new coronavirus epidemic.
The post reads: “the village of Xiao Guozhuang, near Gaocheng is a Catholic village; 20 days ago, there was religious activity here, there were several priests from Europe and the United States […],” implying that the Christians caused the newest outbreak in Hebei.
Despite the rumor, the local priest of Shijiazhuang, who goes by the pseudonym Shanren Shenfu, told Asia News that the accused villages have no Christians and the church body's religious activities have been banned since Christmas Eve.
Religious activities were suspended mid-December following orders from the Patriotic Association and the Administrative Commission [of the National Catholic Church in China].
“The village of Xiao Guozhuang, Liu Jiazuo, Nan Qiaozhai are not Catholic villages, there are only a few Catholic residents,” he said. “These villages do not have a Catholic place of prayer; they do not organize Catholic religious’ meetings. To participate in the usual religious activities, all the faithful go to the adjacent village of Bei Qiaozhai, etc…”
Priest Shanren Shenfu said the blame-shifting reminded him of emperor Nero, who was looking for a scapegoat for his own misdeeds and persecuted Christians as a result.
“Confused people, in truth, don't care what the truth is!” he wrote.
Fortunately “the Church of Shijiazhuang this time reacted in time, immediately issuing a statement to break through the lies and block the negative consequences."
"But I still want to ask the question again: where does this evil wind blow from?” the priest asked.
Shijiazhuang is the largest metropolis in northern China’s Hebei Province with 11 million residents. Last week, authorities barred all residents from leaving the city after it reported 63 coronavirus infections.
There were 103 new COVID-19 cases reported in mainland China Sunday, 82 of which were in Hebei.
China has been heavily criticized for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, from demonstrating a lack of transparency regarding positive infections to imposing overly harsh lockdowns.
Chinese officials have also been accused of trying to cover up the origins of COVID-19 and silencing whistleblowers. In December, Chinese Christian journalist Zhang Zhan was sentenced to four years in prison for her coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
Additionally, the Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly perpetuated claims the virus was imported into China from overseas.
But amid the latest spike in cases, Chinese authorities are finally allowing an expert team of World Health Organization scientists into the country to investigate the origins of the virus, Reuters reports.
The expert team "will conduct joint research cooperation on the origins of COVID-19 with Chinese scientists," the Chinese health authority said.