As of Thursday, the hashtag “Beijing writes mask-wearing into the law” (#北京将流感须戴口罩写进法条#) began trending on Weibo, indicating that not covering your face in public may soon be a punishable offense. However, the use of the word “law” in the hashtag is a bit misleading. In reality, the municipal legislature is considering adding the practice to its list of “uncivilized behaviors,” a work in progress that already includes several behaviors that are officially frowned upon but heretofore unenforced in any meaningful sense. These so far include spitting, jaywalking, dumping trash from windows, manspreading on the subway, and numerous other common-sense misdemeanors.
Epidemic-related behaviors added
At first glance, the amendment seems to contradict last week’s development in which the government relaxed regulations around wearing a mask in public, but in fact the directive to wear a mask only applies under certain circumstances: namely, “when you are infected with the flu or other infectious respiratory diseases.” The wording of which suggests that this is not a temporary measure but rather a permanent addition in an effort to curb future epidemics. Several similar behaviors are also under consideration in order to “Maintain social and psychological health and improve the civilized and sanitary quality of citizens,” including the following:
Not covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing in public.
Not honestly reporting your recent condition when entering the country and not following proper protocol including tests and quarantine.
Not using separate chopsticks and spoons while sharing dishes and not eating from separate plates.
Abusing, consuming, or trafficking wildlife.
Starting rumors, believing rumors, and spreading rumors.
Punishments remain vague
The draft also adds a rather vague section indicating that violators who fail to correct their behavior could be subject to severe punishment, although according to People’s Daily, the responsible committee’s vice chairman, Sun Li, has not given a direct response to how violators would be punished. Li instead states that 23 of the measures (not limited to epidemic-related additions) have stipulated where the legal responsibility falls.
However, the draft removes a portion that originally stipulated that “the behavior of refusing to cooperate with law enforcement can be [publically] exposed,” which was criticized by stakeholders for possibly being unconstitutional. The most visible result of this clause has been the erection of large street-corner screens designed to shame jaywalkers.
More specific punishments are given for traffic violations, however, which are mainly targeted at delivery drivers who run red lights, drive the wrong way, and generally cause a ruckus on the road. Violators could cost their employer as much as RMB 50,000 and a dent to the company’s social credit rating.