A disinfection and temperature-checking robot checks the body temperature of a passenger in the waiting hall of the Shenyang North Railway Station in Shenyang, Northeast China’s Liaoning province, Jan 28, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

China’s “whole-State” mobilization mechanism enables the authorities to make decisive, forceful responses to crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was instrumental in the country’s initial success in containing the virus and paved the way for the relatively early resumption of normal life and work.

The latest developments surrounding the government’s call for people to “celebrate Spring Festival where they are”, however, should remind us that this should not be taken as a one-size-fits-all approach in every instance.

Owing largely to the latest uptick of infections in Beijing and Northeast China, there has been a call for people to celebrate the festival in the places where they work, and avoid cross-region travel, so as to reduce the likelihood of travelers spreading or contracting the virus.

The municipal authorities in Beijing have issued rigid restrictions on travel from and to the city for the Lunar New Year holiday, that can be neatly summarized as “don’t go, don’t come”. Aside from the capital, travel restrictions are also to be applied in “medium- and high-risk areas”.

But what have we seen?

A village in Xingtai, Hebei province, allegedly posted a statement prohibiting people of local origin from returning home for the entire holiday season.

A man, whose places of residence and work in Shanghai are both officially “low-risk”, didn’t get an outright refusal when he inquired about his intended trip back to his home village. But he was told he would have to undergo 14 days of quarantine in a designated venue on his arrival, and then 14 more days of home quarantine. Plus any quarantine required on his return to Shanghai. He has 20 days at most for his holiday vacation.

More ironically, after being assured that no quarantine would be necessary for a visit back home to the city of Jixi, Heilongjiang province, a person returned, with the required negative nucleic acid test report only to find he was banned from going out. This is a local government policy, he was informed.

Similar incidents have triggered such a backlash that the national authorities had to come out and clarified a uniform prescription never existed, and the strict restraints were tailored for Beijing only. They condemned local authorities for escalating pandemic control measures “level by level”.

It significantly slights the nature of what these local officials have done to label it just “lazy governance”. Imposing arbitrary restrictions on a person’s freedom violates the law, and may involve criminal liabilities.

Local governments must be rational when it comes to prevention and control measures. They need to exercise proper vigilance, and adhere to the guidelines of the central government.

Doing so will prevent a resurgence of the virus while also allowing those who are not in high-risk areas to celebrate the festival with their families if they wish, so long as they have the mandatory negative test certificate.