In the early weeks of the COVID-19 epidemic in China, some roads and streets were blocked without government approval, hampering the movement of medical supplies and personnel.
Under China's Law on Infectious Disease Prevention and Control, only provincial-level governments can decide to lock down an area in case of an emergent situation, a highly infectious disease for example. Wang Junfeng, a National People's Congress (NPC) deputy, said villages and residential communities cannot set up blockades without government approval, but suggested to give city-level governments the right to do so as a quicker response to an emergency.
"For those who set up illegal, improper blockades as an epidemic restriction measure, it is understandable. But if it's not in line with the law, the public's life and rights will be affected," Wang said.
After handing in his suggestion documents, Wang said he received a reply from the Education, Science, Culture and Public Health Committee of the NPC at the end of last year. "It said our suggestions were adopted in later legislative work," he said.
Dealing with public health emergencies has been a key concern of the Chinese government since COVID-19 struck a year ago. The NPC, the country's top legislature, has amended or created relevant laws to address this issue.
Wang's suggestion was made during the most difficult time during the COVID-19 epidemic. The NPC said in its reply that many suggestions and motions in this area were being considered, since it has made a specific plan to strengthen public health regulation. Based on that, 17 health-related laws are due to be formulated or revised this year. More discussions are expected during the upcoming Two Sessions.
Wang heads a large law firm. He's also president of All China Lawyers Association. He said his idea was born out of consultation with other experts and peers.
"I'm a member of the Constitution and Law Committee of the NPC, which has heavy legislative work. Every month, we hold several meetings. Last year, most of them were related to public health laws. We do a lot of investigations and surveys. Many good legislative experiences were based on ideas collected from experts, scholars and the general public, to satisfy the people's need for legality," said Wang.
In last year's Two Sessions, a quarter of the motions the NPC received were about public health legislation. It was also the top concern among some 9,000 suggestions from lawmakers.
Wang said public health will still be his focus this year, including the introduction of laws and regulations to better prevent coronavirus cases from abroad. He believes the quick response from relevant departments are encouraging lawmakers to do a good job.
"When we just handed in the motions, even when the Two Sessions were not over, we got calls from relevant ministries, confirming they received our suggestions. They shared with us their basic opinions on the contents. They asked for meeting with us. This feedback and acknowledgment is very encouraging for lawmakers," said Wang.
Compared to other issues, public health-related laws have drawn much more attention from the public, since it directly concerns the people's lives, especially at a time the threat from COVID-19 still looms.