The Law and Wuhan Mayor Zhou's Excuse: I Followed the Rules, Blame Higher-Ups, Not me — the Law the PRC on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases

Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang says that he was not able to release information about the epidemic to the public any earlier because of the provisions of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Diseases. See my translation of the Chinese-language transcript of Mayor Zhou’s January 27 interview on Chinese Central Television “Wuhan Mayor Zhou: Reporting Delays Caused by Center, I Acted Fast Once I Got Authorization.

What was really going on? I don’t know. The China Media Project has a report from Wuhan entitled “THE TRUTH ABOUT “DRAMATIC ACTION” dated Jan 27, 2020 that makes an interesting comparison to the if-by-the-book discussion below.

Having compared the Chinese and machine-translated text, I’d say that Google Translate does a fairly good job on this law. Not to legal standards certainly but enough to give a good idea what is and isn’t in the law and to muse on Mayor Zhou’s “the devil made me do it!” excuse. Here is Google Translate version of this PRC law.

So if done by the book (alway a heroic assumption) in China’s dual leadership governance system. Dual leadership means that a local government agency reports to both the local government and to the corresponding agency at the next level of government. The local government leader controls funding and most of the personnel appointments. The top leader is named by the corresponding agency at the next highest level of government.

Only the State Council Can Declare an Epidemic

The second part of Article 38 reserves the right to publish information about an epidemic to the State Council. More than an epidemic of disease, the Party fears an epidemic of fear. Can’t have people talking out of turn about scary things like epiemics. Social stability is always Job One. 

Article 38 The State Established System for Publishing Information on Epidemics of Contagious Diseases

The health administrative department of the State Council regularly publishes information on infectious diseases across the country. The health administrative departments of the people’s governments of provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly announce the information on infectious diseases in their respective administrative regions.

When outbreaks and epidemics of infectious diseases occur, the health administrative department of the State Council is responsible for publishing information on infectious diseases to the society, and may authorize the health administrative departments of the people’s governments of provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the Central Government to publish information on infectious diseases in their respective administrative regions. “

Article 38, PRC Law on  Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases

第三十八条 国家建立传染病疫情信息公布制度。

  国务院卫生行政部门定期公布全国传染病疫情信息。省、自治区、直辖市人民政府卫生行政部门定期公布本行政区域的传染病疫情信息。

  传染病暴发、流行时,国务院卫生行政部门负责向社会公布传染病疫情信息,并可以授权省、自治区、直辖市人民政府卫生行政部门向社会公布本行政区域的传染病疫情信息。

My amateur reading of the law is that imposing immediate quarantines is permitted and indeed encourage to take aggressive action against contagious disease and even an epidemic (subject to the immediate veto of the health department of the next highest level of government) as long as the local government doesn’t call it an epidemic. Only the State Council can declare an epidemic or authorize a local government to do so. People tempted to talking about epidemics somewhere — even just down the street — absent an official declaration should be aware that doing so amounts to spreading false rumors! As eight people and even a journalist on the Communist Party newspaper in Wuhan found out recently. Anything not published officially can be defined as a false rumor that could bring the police knocking on your door if you mention it on social media.

I wonder if the provision against leaking information about patients with epidemic diseases could be used as a rationale for suppressing information.

Last line of Article 69  “(7) intentionally leaking relevant information and materials concerning the privacy of patients with infectious diseases, carriers of pathogens, patients with suspected infectious diseases, and close contacts. (七)故意泄露传染病病人、病原携带者、疑似传染病病人、密切接触者涉及个人隐私的有关信息、资料的。

Failing in reporting duties means failing to report in timely and accurate manner to local government, health agency of next highest level of government and to the State Council health administrative department — that would be Ministry of Public Health or a leading group of the State Council.

Here are the Steps if Wuhan Took if it Followed the Epidemic Law Closely

I read over the law and went over the steps Wuhan might have taken in responding to the coronavirus epidemic if everything went by the book. As elsewhere, laws are interpreted and clarified through regulations issued by central government departments. I haven’t seen looked for those.

1.   Wuhan City health bureau reports to Wuhan city party and gov, to Hubei Provincial Health Department and to the State Council Min Public Health.


Article 33 Disease prevention and control agencies shall actively collect, analyze, investigate, and verify information on infectious diseases. When receiving an epidemic report of a Class A or B infectious disease or when an outbreak or epidemic of an infectious disease is found, it shall immediately report to the local health administrative department. The local health administrative department shall immediately report to the local people’s government, and at the same time report to the superior health administrative department and the health administrative department of the State Council.

第三十三条 疾病预防控制机构应当主动收集、分析、调查、核实传染病疫情信息。接到甲类、乙类传染病疫情报告或者发现传染病暴发、流行时,应当立即报告当地卫生行政部门,由当地卫生行政部门立即报告当地人民政府,同时报告上级卫生行政部门和国务院卫生行政部门。

  疾病预防控制机构应当设立或者指定专门的部门、人员负责传染病疫情信息管理工作,及时对疫情报告进行核实、分析。

2.  Notice to Wuhan city region hospitals

Article 34 The health administrative department of the local people’s government at or above the county level shall promptly notify the disease prevention and control institutions and medical institutions within its administrative area of ​​the epidemic situation of infectious diseases and related information on monitoring and early warning. The disease prevention and control institutions and medical institutions that have received the notification shall inform the relevant personnel of the unit in a timely manner. 

 第三十四条 县级以上地方人民政府卫生行政部门应当及时向本行政区域内的疾病预防控制机构和医疗机构通报传染病疫情以及监测、预警的相关信息。接到通报的疾病预防控制机构和医疗机构应当及时告知本单位的有关人员。


3.  State Council Health (likely Min Public Health and/or leading group) notifies other provinces etc.  Wuhan coordinates with neighboring areas 

Article 35 The health administrative department of the State Council shall promptly notify other relevant departments of the State Council and the health administrative departments of the people’s governments of provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the Central Government about the epidemic situation of infectious diseases throughout the country, as well as relevant information on monitoring and early warning.

The health administrative department of the neighboring and relevant local people’s government shall timely inform each other of the epidemic situation of infectious diseases in the administrative area, as well as relevant information on monitoring and early warning.

第三十五条 国务院卫生行政部门应当及时向国务院其他有关部门和各省、自治区、直辖市人民政府卫生行政部门通报全国传染病疫情以及监测、预警的相关信息。

  毗邻的以及相关的地方人民政府卫生行政部门,应当及时互相通报本行政区域的传染病疫情以及监测、预警的相关信息。

  县级以上人民政府有关部门发现传染病疫情时,应当及时向同级人民政府卫生行政部门通报。

  中国人民解放军卫生主管部门发现传染病疫情时,应当向国务院卫生行政部门通报。


4.   Informing the public  –[Wuhan would have to wait for State Council. Local government can announce data on infectious disease, but need State Council authorization to announce an epidemic. ] 

Article 38 The State establishes an information disclosure system for infectious diseases.

The health administrative department of the State Council regularly publishes information on infectious diseases across the country. The health administrative departments of the people’s governments of provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly announce the information on infectious diseases in their respective administrative regions.

When outbreaks and epidemics of infectious diseases occur, the health administrative department of the State Council is responsible for publishing information on infectious diseases to the society, and may authorize the health administrative departments of the people’s governments of provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the Central Government to publish information on infectious diseases in their respective administrative regions.  

第三十八条 国家建立传染病疫情信息公布制度。

  国务院卫生行政部门定期公布全国传染病疫情信息。省、自治区、直辖市人民政府卫生行政部门定期公布本行政区域的传染病疫情信息。

  传染病暴发、流行时,国务院卫生行政部门负责向社会公布传染病疫情信息,并可以授权省、自治区、直辖市人民政府卫生行政部门向社会公布本行政区域的传染病疫情信息。

  公布传染病疫情信息应当及时、准确。

5.  Imposing a quarantine — Wuhan would need Hubei Province immediate review of decision to impose quarantine [Comment:  A county or above locality can impose a quarantine on its own authority subject to immediate review/rejection by next higher government unit. But can’t declare on its own that an epidemic exists. [Though people might guess and even talk about it, and mention it on social media. Doing so would however constitute spreading a false rumor (defined as spreading information not yet announced by the authorities]

Article 41 The local people’s government at or above the county level in the place where a case of an infectious disease case has occurred or in a specific area of ​​the place may implement isolation measures and report to the people’s government at the same level; The people’s government at a higher level should make a decision on whether to approve it immediately. If the people’s government at a higher level makes a decision not to approve, the people’s government implementing the isolation measures shall immediately lift the isolation measures.

During the period of quarantine, the people’s government that implements the quarantine measures shall provide living security for the quarantined person; if the quarantined person has a work unit, the unit in which the quarantine person stops shall not stop paying the work remuneration during the quarantine period.

The lifting of the quarantine measures shall be decided and announced by the original decision-making authority. [more details in section 42]

第四十一条 对已经发生甲类传染病病例的场所或者该场所内的特定区域的人员,所在地的县级以上地方人民政府可以实施隔离措施,并同时向上一级人民政府报告;接到报告的上级人民政府应当即时作出是否批准的决定。上级人民政府作出不予批准决定的,实施隔离措施的人民政府应当立即解除隔离措施。

  在隔离期间,实施隔离措施的人民政府应当对被隔离人员提供生活保障;被隔离人员有工作单位的,所在单位不得停止支付其隔离期间的工作报酬。

  隔离措施的解除,由原决定机关决定并宣布。


6.  Quarantine blocking of major roads — [Comment: At outbreak of certain serious infectious diseases, Wuhan could declare epidemic area, but only if Hubei Party and government agree. Quarantine blockades of a big city like Wuhan cannot be decided locally, need to wait for State Council decision.

]Article 43 When an outbreak or epidemic of a Class A or B infectious disease occurs, the local people’s government at or above the county level may, upon the decision of the people’s government at the next higher level, declare part or all of the administrative area to be an epidemic area; Infected areas in provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. Local people’s governments at or above the county level may take the emergency measures prescribed in Article 42 of this law in the epidemic area, and may carry out health quarantine on the personnel, materials and vehicles entering and leaving the epidemic area.

The people’s governments of provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities may decide to impose blockades on Class A infectious disease-affected areas within their own administrative areas; however, blockades of large or medium-sized cities, or of cross-provincial, autonomous, and municipality-affected areas, and blockades of epidemic areas result in disruptions Trunk traffic or blockade of national borders shall be decided by the State Council.

The lifting of the blockade of the epidemic area shall be decided and announced by the original decision organ.

Article 44 When a Class A infectious disease occurs, in order to prevent the infectious disease from spreading by means of transport and its personnel and materials, traffic health quarantine may be implemented. Specific measures shall be formulated by the State Council.  

第四十三条 甲类、乙类传染病暴发、流行时,县级以上地方人民政府报经上一级人民政府决定,可以宣布本行政区域部分或者全部为疫区;国务院可以决定并宣布跨省、自治区、直辖市的疫区。县级以上地方人民政府可以在疫区内采取本法第四十二条规定的紧急措施,并可以对出入疫区的人员、物资和交通工具实施卫生检疫。

  省、自治区、直辖市人民政府可以决定对本行政区域内的甲类传染病疫区实施封锁;但是,封锁大、中城市的疫区或者封锁跨省、自治区、直辖市的疫区,以及封锁疫区导致中断干线交通或者封锁国境的,由国务院决定。

  疫区封锁的解除,由原决定机关决定并宣布。

  第四十四条 发生甲类传染病时,为了防止该传染病通过交通工具及其乘运的人员、物资传播,可以实施交通卫生检疫。具体办法由国务院制定。

7.  Legal liability  — [Comment: failing in reporting duties in context means failing in reporting, in the case of Wuhan, to Hubei Province and to the State Council. This is not about public information.   Much epidemic response can go on insofar as it can be effective without disclosing the existence of an epidemic.  So Failure to respond while keeping quiet about an epidemic (such as failing to cancel large gatherings??) would perhaps be an error. ]


Chapter VIII Legal Liability

Article 65 Where local people’s governments at various levels fail to perform their reporting duties in accordance with the provisions of this Law, or conceal, misreport, or postpone reporting of infectious disease epidemics, or fail to organize timely treatment and take control measures when an infectious disease breaks out or spreads, The people’s government at a higher level shall order corrections and report criticisms; those who have caused the spread, epidemic or other serious consequences of infectious diseases shall be given administrative sanctions according to law; those who constitute crimes shall be investigated for criminal responsibility according to law.  

Article 66 The health administrative department of the people’s government at or above the county level violates the provisions of this Law. In any of the following cases, the health administrative department of the people’s government at the same level or higher level shall order it to be corrected and report criticism; For other serious consequences, the person-in-charge and other persons directly responsible shall be given administrative sanctions according to law; if a crime is constituted, criminal responsibility shall be investigated according to law:

(1) failing to perform its duties of reporting, reporting or publishing infectious diseases according to law, or concealing, misreporting, or delaying reporting of infectious diseases;

(2) failing to take preventive and control measures in a timely manner when the spread of infectious diseases occurs or is likely to occur;

(3) failing to perform supervision and inspection duties in accordance with the law, or failing to investigate and deal with the violations in a timely manner;

(4) Failure to timely investigate and deal with the reports of units and individuals failing to perform infectious disease prevention and control duties at lower health administrative departments;

(5) Other acts of negligence or malfeasance in violation of this Law.

Article 67 If the relevant departments of the people’s government at or above the county level fail to perform their duties for the prevention and protection of infectious diseases in accordance with the provisions of this Law, the people’s government at the corresponding level or the relevant departments of the people’s government at a higher level shall order correction and report criticism; Or other serious consequences, the person in charge and other persons directly responsible shall be given administrative sanctions according to law; if a crime is constituted, criminal responsibility shall be investigated according to law.

Article 68 The disease prevention and control agency violates the provisions of this law and, in one of the following cases, the health administrative department of the people’s government at or above the county level shall order correction within a time limit, report criticism, and give a warning; to those in charge and other directly responsible persons Responsible personnel shall be punished for demotion, dismissal, and dismissal in accordance with law, and may have their practice certificates revoked according to law; if a crime is constituted, criminal responsibility shall be investigated according to law:

(1) Failure to perform the duties of surveillance of infectious diseases according to law;

(2) failing to perform the duties of reporting and notifying infectious diseases according to law, or concealing, misreporting or delaying reporting of infectious diseases;

(3) Failure to actively collect information on the epidemic situation of infectious diseases, or fail to analyze, investigate and verify the information and reports of infectious diseases in a timely manner;

(4) failing to take the measures prescribed in this Law in a timely manner in accordance with their duties when an epidemic situation of infectious diseases is discovered;

(5) Intentionally leaking relevant information and materials concerning the privacy of patients with infectious diseases, carriers of pathogens, patients with suspected infectious diseases, and close contacts.

Article 69 If a medical institution violates the provisions of this Law and has one of the following circumstances, the health administrative department of the people’s government at or above the county level shall order correction, report criticism, and give a warning; if it causes the spread, epidemic or other serious consequences of infectious diseases, The person-in-charge and other persons who are directly responsible shall be punished by demotion, dismissal, and dismissal according to law, and may have their practice certificates revoked according to law; if a crime is constituted, criminal responsibility shall be investigated according to law:

(1) failing to undertake infectious disease prevention and control work, hospital infection control tasks, and infectious disease prevention work in its area of ​​responsibility in accordance with regulations;

(2) Failure to report the epidemic situation of infectious diseases, or conceal, misreport, or postpone reporting of the epidemic situation of infectious diseases;

(3) when an epidemic situation of infectious diseases is discovered, failing to provide medical aid, on-site rescue, admission, or referral to patients with infectious diseases or suspected infectious diseases in accordance with regulations, or refusing to accept referrals;

(4) failing to disinfect or harmlessly dispose of the places, articles and medical wastes contaminated with pathogens of infectious diseases in their units in accordance with regulations;

(5) failing to sterilize medical devices in accordance with regulations, or failing to destroy medical devices that are used once in accordance with regulations and reuse them;

(6) failing to keep medical records and materials in accordance with regulations during medical treatment;

(7) intentionally leaking relevant information and materials concerning the privacy of patients with infectious diseases, carriers of pathogens, patients with suspected infectious diseases, and close contacts.  

  第八章 法律责任

  第六十五条 地方各级人民政府未依照本法的规定履行报告职责,或者隐瞒、谎报、缓报传染病疫情,或者在传染病暴发、流行时,未及时组织救治、采取控制措施的,由上级人民政府责令改正,通报批评;造成传染病传播、流行或者其他严重后果的,对负有责任的主管人员,依法给予行政处分;构成犯罪的,依法追究刑事责任。

  第六十六条 县级以上人民政府卫生行政部门违反本法规定,有下列情形之一的,由本级人民政府、上级人民政府卫生行政部门责令改正,通报批评;造成传染病传播、流行或者其他严重后果的,对负有责任的主管人员和其他直接责任人员,依法给予行政处分;构成犯罪的,依法追究刑事责任:

  (一)未依法履行传染病疫情通报、报告或者公布职责,或者隐瞒、谎报、缓报传染病疫情的;

  (二)发生或者可能发生传染病传播时未及时采取预防、控制措施的;

  (三)未依法履行监督检查职责,或者发现违法行为不及时查处的;

  (四)未及时调查、处理单位和个人对下级卫生行政部门不履行传染病防治职责的举报的;

  (五)违反本法的其他失职、渎职行为。

  第六十七条 县级以上人民政府有关部门未依照本法的规定履行传染病防治和保障职责的,由本级人民政府或者上级人民政府有关部门责令改正,通报批评;造成传染病传播、流行或者其他严重后果的,对负有责任的主管人员和其他直接责任人员,依法给予行政处分;构成犯罪的,依法追究刑事责任。

  第六十八条 疾病预防控制机构违反本法规定,有下列情形之一的,由县级以上人民政府卫生行政部门责令限期改正,通报批评,给予警告;对负有责任的主管人员和其他直接责任人员,依法给予降级、撤职、开除的处分,并可以依法吊销有关责任人员的执业证书;构成犯罪的,依法追究刑事责任:

  (一)未依法履行传染病监测职责的;

  (二)未依法履行传染病疫情报告、通报职责,或者隐瞒、谎报、缓报传染病疫情的;

  (三)未主动收集传染病疫情信息,或者对传染病疫情信息和疫情报告未及时进行分析、调查、核实的;

  (四)发现传染病疫情时,未依据职责及时采取本法规定的措施的;

  (五)故意泄露传染病病人、病原携带者、疑似传染病病人、密切接触者涉及个人隐私的有关信息、资料的。

  第六十九条 医疗机构违反本法规定,有下列情形之一的,由县级以上人民政府卫生行政部门责令改正,通报批评,给予警告;造成传染病传播、流行或者其他严重后果的,对负有责任的主管人员和其他直接责任人员,依法给予降级、撤职、开除的处分,并可以依法吊销有关责任人员的执业证书;构成犯罪的,依法追究刑事责任:

  (一)未按照规定承担本单位的传染病预防、控制工作、医院感染控制任务和责任区域内的传染病预防工作的;

  (二)未按照规定报告传染病疫情,或者隐瞒、谎报、缓报传染病疫情的;

  (三)发现传染病疫情时,未按照规定对传染病病人、疑似传染病病人提供医疗救护、现场救援、接诊、转诊的,或者拒绝接受转诊的;

  (四)未按照规定对本单位内被传染病病原体污染的场所、物品以及医疗废物实施消毒或者无害化处置的;

  (五)未按照规定对医疗器械进行消毒,或者对按照规定一次使用的医疗器具未予销毁,再次使用的;

  (六)在医疗救治过程中未按照规定保管医学记录资料的;

  (七)故意泄露传染病病人、病原携带者、疑似传染病病人、密切接触者涉及个人隐私的有关信息、资料的。

About 高大伟 David Cowhig

Now retired, translated Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and studying some things. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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