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Elderly in China protest against cut in medical benefits

2023 Feb 18, 19:13, Wuhan
Representative Image. (Photo credit - ANI)

 Thousands of retirees in China from Wuhan took to the streets to protest against cuts to their medical benefits, reported the New York Times.

Keith Bradsher, Daisuke Wakabayashi and Claire Fu wrote that the protest in Wuhan highlights the strain on the finances of local governments, made worse by heavy spending on "zero Covid" measures.

China's "zero Covid" policies, dictated by Beijing over the past three years, saddled those localities with additional costs, while a downturn in the real estate market eroded a reliable stream of revenue.

The protest on Wednesday, the second in Wuhan in a week, was the latest sign of strain on the finances of China's local governments, which are responsible for covering much of the cost of everything from health care to heating homes, reported NYT.

Video footage that circulated online indicated that large crowds gathered around Zhongshan Park in Wuhan, as the police tried to divide them by imposing barricades.

When police officers tried to push the crowds back, older men and women refused to back off and shouted in the officers' faces. Some sang songs like "The Internationale," an anthem employed by both the ruling Communist Party and by protesters, who have used it to suggest that the party has strayed from its ideological roots.

In Wuhan, seven witnesses to the protest and two other residents described what they called a large demonstration during the day, said Keith Bradsher, Daisuke Wakabayashi and Claire Fu.

One witness said he had seen police officers roughly detain protesters and lead them away.

On Thursday, a hundred seniors gathered in groups at a popular park in the central Chinese city of Wuhan at midday, angrily discussing their unhappiness with the health insurance policy changes.

Security was tight, with plainclothes officers milling around, filming people as they talked. Nearly 100 uniformed officers stood behind crowd control barriers, reported NYT.

Social friction in China may reappear as economic growth slows and the population ages. China has one of the world's highest levels of income inequality. The protest Wednesday took place near a luxury mall with street-level stores for brands like Dior, Louis Vuitton and Versace, said Bradsher, Daisuke and Claire.

Protesters who gathered on Feb. 8 had vowed to return in a week if their demands that the local government restore insurance contributions for retirees to previous levels were not met.

In addition to the protest in Wuhan, videos also surfaced online on Wednesday of a demonstration of retirees in the port city of Dalian, in Liaoning Province.

Last month, a crowd of retirees gathered outside government offices in the southern city of Guangzhou to protest the reduction in government contributions to their personal health insurance accounts, according to videos posted online.

The trade-off on retirement benefits has become increasingly unsustainable in the face of China's looming demographic challenges, in which the number of old people is growing more rapidly than that of young people entering the workforce.


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