A video footage related to China's efforts to contain the COVID-19 epidemic has in recent days caused a sensation online——it was not only spread wildly by some anti-China cult organizations abroad, but also quoted frequently by many European and American media in their news reports, lending color to "horrors" of the virus epidemic as well as Chinese government’s "disrespect for human rights" in its prevention and control measures.
However, after several days of investigation, I have found out the truth of this incident, which is not as "horrible" and "merciless" as some foreign media have exaggerated.
Today, let's take a look at the details of this incident.
A video that went viral on the Internet outside China
The basic content of the video clip is as follows: A young couple is hugging together, and the girl is heard crying over something, surrounded by a policeman with an umbrella and two staff members in pink protective suits.
Fig.1. A screenshot of the video clip
Afterward, the couple boarded a pick-up truck with the Chinese characters "环境监察(Environmental Supervision)" and entered a so-called "metal box" at the back of the truck, while the person shooting the video in the background said, "Arrested! How terrible it is!"
Fig.2. The vehicle with Chinese characters "环境监察(Environmental Supervision)"
Fig.3. “Metal box” at the back of the vehicle
At the end of the video, the girl was heard crying again after entering the “metal box”. Here ended the more than 40-second video footage.
In the past few days, this video footage, which lacks key information, was first uploaded on "乐秀(VideoShow)" and other video platforms, then posted by overseas anti-China cult organizations on their accounts, and later used by CNBC, the mainstream media of the United States, in their reports, as “evidence” to show the "horrors" of China’s coronavirus epidemic and the patients’ lack of "human rights".
Fig.4. “Breaking News” on western media
The video was also uploaded on Twitter, which claimed that the couple would be "disposed of".
Fig.5. Screenshot posted on Twitter
However, I have carefully checked this incident in the past few days and found that what has happened is quite different from what this short video seems to have shown.
This is what has actually happened：
Since the video being circulated on the overseas Internet doesn’t show where the incident happened, one of my colleagues Liang Youzhi watched it carefully, finding a bus with the Chinese characters "苏州公交(Suzhou Public Transportation)" driving by in the video.
Besides, we also found a vague logo printed on the pickup truck with the Chinese characters "环境监察（Environmental Supervision）", and that logo is very similar to that of Suzhou Environmental Protection Bureau(SEPB）.
Thus, we first confirmed that this incident happened in Suzhou, Jiangsu province.
Fig.6. Chinese characters "环境监察（Environmental Supervision）" painted on the vehicle
Fig.7. Logo of SEPB (Suzhou Environmental Protection Bureau）
Next, we contacted Suzhou Environmental Protection Bureau on February 10, sending them an interview letter in the hope that they could give an explanation regarding certain things about the couple, the truck, and especially the key issues such as why there was a large “metal box” on the truck, why people were allowed to get into it, and where the truck went later.
Fig.8. Interview letter to SEPB
At 5 p.m. on the same day, the Suzhou Environmental Protection Bureau (SEPB) called us and responded to our inquiries in detail and patience. They said that after receiving our interview letter, they immediately investigated all the vehicles belonging to the environmental protection departments in the city, but found that the said pick-up truck doesn’t belong to the environmental protection departments.
However, the staff member who called us did not end the phone call at this point but continued to tell us prudentially that the truck might belong to a sub-district office because some sub-district offices would also purchase additional vehicles with Chinese characters such as “环境监察（Environmental Supervision）printed on them to carry out their work.
Besides, the staff member added that such vehicles might well be requisitioned from the sub-district offices for epidemic prevention and control in Suzhou, suggesting that we contact other departments involved in epidemic prevention and control.
Fig.9. Telephone call to SEPB
Therefore, we immediately contacted the Suzhou Health Commission (SHC) late in the afternoon, and soon received a call and message from a staff member with the surname of Ye in the Suzhou Health Commission. The staff member said that he would immediately report what I said to the Epidemic Prevention and Control Headquarters in Suzhou and relevant departments for verification.
Fig.10. Telephone call to SHC (Suzhou Health Commission)
At 5:37 p.m. Feb 11, we finally received one of the most important calls during this investigation. It was a call from Ms. You, a member of the Party Working Committee of Caohu Sub-district Office, Xiangcheng District, Suzhou City.
Ms. You confirmed that the vehicle and some personnel in the video came from their Caohu Sub-district office, and she told me in detail about the said incident.
According to Ms. You, when the girl in the video arrived at Suzhou by train on Feb 5, she reported that she had been to Wuhan on January 21. However, after returning to Suzhou, the girl did not go to her rented residence in the area under the jurisdiction of the Caohu Sub-district Office. So the sub-district office personnel called the girl on Feb 6 to inquire about her whereabouts and conditions, and learned that she had settled down in an express hotel after returning to Suzhou on Feb 5.
As per Ms. You's description, to take responsibility for the health of others as well as the girl who had been to Wuhan, the local sub-district office communicated with the girl about the issue of quarantine, telling her that the quarantine point requisitioned by the sub-district office was also a hotel, where she could come to stay under quarantine observation, and that the sub-district office could send a car to transfer her to the quarantine point. The girl agreed at first.
Fig.11.Details from Ms. You, a member of the Party Working Committee of Caohu Sub-district Office, Xiangcheng District, Suzhou City.
However, Ms. You said, due to the sudden outbreak of the coronavirus infection, the sub-district office had to requisition a pick-up truck used for environmental supervision to carry out the work of epidemic prevention and control, as it had no vehicles that could isolate the drivers from the individuals being transferred. According to her, the sub-district office knew it would be uncomfortable for people to be carried on a pickup truck, and meanwhile, they couldn’t possibly allow the transferred individuals to suffer from the rain which had been going on in Suzhou at the time. But because many workshops were closed as a result of the epidemic prevention measures and the coming Spring Festival, there was no way for the sub-district office to have the pickup truck better modified, so they had to improvise a simple shed, the so-called "metal box" in the video, on the pickup truck and have seats installed in it.
Then, on February 6th, the pickup truck sent by the Caohu Sub-district Office arrived at the express hotel the girl was staying at, ready to transfer her to the quarantine observation point. However, Ms. You said, the girl somehow lost control all of a sudden and was reluctant to go. But the office staff at the scene patiently persuaded her instead of forcing her to go. Her boyfriend who stayed with her at the hotel was also trying to persuade her, while the policeman in the video who appeared at the scene with an umbrella was only there to keep order.
After being persuaded for a while, the girl and her boyfriend got on the truck voluntarily, as can be evidenced in the more than 40-second video, which showed the girl and her boyfriend getting into the truck all by themselves instead of being forced into it by the staff.
Fig.12.The girl and her boyfriend getting into the truck by themselves
However, Ms. You said that the girl did have a mood swing and cry again after getting onto the truck. But Ms. you added that after arriving at the hotel requisitioned by the sub-district office as the quarantine point, the office staff talked with the girl, further verifying her physical conditions and travel routes. Seeing that the girl also met the conditions of being quarantined at home, they agreed to her going to her boyfriend's home for quarantine.
So, the girl is now staying at her boyfriend’s home under quarantine observation.
Up to this point, the things that are unclear in the more than 40-second video have been fully explained and clarified:
1. As the girl has been to Wuhan, the epicenter of outbreak, so the epidemic prevention and control staff of Caohu Sub-district Office contacted her and sent a vehicle to bring her to the quarantine point.
2. The pickup truck in the video is originally an environmental supervision vehicle belonging to Caohu Sub-district Office, and it has been modified to isolate the driver from the individuals being transferred to the quarantine point. The big "metalbox" is a "shed" with seats, which was improvised by the Caohu Sub-district Office staff so that the transferred individuals could feel more comfortable sitting inside it, without getting drenched in the rain.
3. The girl is currently staying at her boyfriend's home under quarantine observation, instead of being “disposed of” as alleged by some overseas Anti-China accounts on social media platforms.
Finally, at the time of the current epidemic crisis, I also hope that netizens both at home and abroad can better understand the work of the grassroots personnel responsible for epidemic prevention and control in China, to avoid being misled and instigated after just watching an obscure video.
Besides, I would also like to commend Suzhou authorities for attaching importance and responding promptly to this hot issue. This is not the first time that we have interviewed the relevant departments of Suzhou City for hot issues causing widespread public concern on the Internet. However, I have been impressed by their great attention and patient response to the media’s demands for interviews.