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2019-08-23 10:39:33

Out of the 3,200 drugs most commonly used to treat illnesses in China, 30% have seen their prices go up over the past four-plus years, top health officials said at a press conference Thursday.

To combat this problem, health authorities have vowed to crack down on companies with monopolies or near-monopolies on essential drug ingredients, after such companies were accused last year of altering their prices to manipulate the domestic drug market. Those that fail to make the rectifications demanded of them will be exposed and punished by having their social credit ratings lowered.

Since June 2015, the Chinese government has allowed the free market to determine prices of pharmaceuticals, apart from anesthetics and psychotropic drugs. Although the prices of around 70% of the country’s most common drugs have remained stable in the years since, some 200-plus medications — mostly ones that are in short supply or used mainly in emergencies — have become significantly more expensive. (Image: VCG)

2 days

Chinese cities that reported high levels of PM 2.5 — tiny air particles hazardous to human health — during last fall and winter will face “correspondingly high” emissions reduction targets in this year’s anti-pollution campaign, domestic media reported.

Liu Youbin, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, said during a press conference Friday that the air quality standards will be set to “consolidate the achievements” made in combating air pollution. Cities that met pollution standards last year will be exempt from stricter targets this season, though the ministry did not specify the precise standards.

Winters in China often bring thick smog, as coal-fired heaters warm homes and power factories. In 2017, the ministry announced plans for 28 northern cities, including Beijing, to switch from coal to natural gas in a bid to improve air quality, though the initiative was fraught with obstacles.

Liu also said that a draft detailing emissions targets for the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area — a key smog-control zone — has been submitted to relevant departments for approval. According to the document, while Beijing has been given an emissions growth target of zero, the remaining 27 cities have been ordered to lower their PM 2.5 concentrations by 1.0% to 11.0% compared with last year. (Image: VCG)

2 days

From trains and planes to buses and ferries, there are a number of ways to travel among Hong Kong, Macao, and the Chinese mainland — and soon rentable helicopter taxis may be added to the list.

At a Beijing aviation expo Wednesday, Airbus China unveiled its plan for an online platform for helicopter-booking services within the Greater Bay Area — the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao plus the neighboring Guangdong province — by the end of this year, The Beijing News reported. Passengers will be able to request and pay for flights using a mobile app — as they would for ride-hailing platforms like Didi or Uber — which connects them with licensed helicopter and helipad operators.

Xu Gang, the CEO of Airbus China, said that the helicopter-hiring service will “pave the way” for urban air traffic in the area, which was chosen for its population density and big-spending residents.

Airbus currently operates a similar service in Mexico, where a 16-minute flight from the capital city’s international airport to the affluent Interlomas area costs around $290. While the aviation company hasn’t announced prices for its China service, a 15-minute helicopter test flight from the Shenzhen airport to Hong Kong earlier this year cost over $7,000, while a regular air shuttle service between Macao and Shenzhen is priced at 4,700 yuan ($660). (Image: VCG)

2 days

A Beijing court has sentenced a man to nine months in prison for assaulting a doctor who refused to perform a caesarian section on his pregnant wife, Beijing Daily reported Thursday.

According to the verdict, published Tuesday, the Xicheng District People’s Court said the defendant, surnamed Zheng, had “severely disrupted medical procedures” at Peking University First Hospital last September. The prosecutor said Zheng insulted several medical staff and beat a doctor after the hospital refused the delivery procedure on the grounds that the woman “didn’t meet the criteria.”

Zheng was formally arrested in November, and the local procuratorate filed a case against him in May, charging him with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” according to the verdict.

Violence against health care professionals is relatively common in China. According to a 2017 report from the Chinese Medical Doctor Association, 66% of 146,200 medical professionals the group surveyed said they had experienced physical or verbal confrontations with their patients. In June, the National Health Commission and 27 other government departments issued a joint notice blacklisting 177 people with a history of such offences. (Image: Beijing Daily)

3 days

Two village officials in central China have been expelled from the Communist Party and put on one year’s probation, respectively, after they embezzled or misused tens of thousands of yuan in government funding that was supposed to go toward new toilets, a provincial discipline watchdog said Wednesday.

In 2014, Xie Baiqing and Xie Wenbing — the report did not say whether they were related — misappropriated 87,000 yuan (then $14,000) after over-reporting the number of toilets that needed replacing in Laoxiejia Village, in Hunan province’s Jiahe County.

The county government had agreed to allocate 500 yuan for each new toilet, so the Xies — two of the village’s highest-ranking officials — claimed they needed to replace 285 toilets. However, only 111 latrines were renovated, leaving the Xies with over twice as much funding as they needed — some of which went toward another village nearby that had asked for help in applying for its own toilet funds, and 10,000 yuan of which went directly into the Xies’ pockets.

Hunan’s discipline inspection commission discovered the cadres’ caper in June 2018 and recovered the embezzled 10,000 yuan. The officials’ actions “seriously damaged the relationship between cadres and the public, and affected the images of both the party and the government,” according to the notice.

With a well-earned reputation for grim conditions, China’s squat toilets have been targeted for large-scale renovations since 2015, when President Xi Jinping explicitly called for a “toilet revolution,” especially in rural areas and tourist sites. (Image: VCG)

3 days

Ahead of next week’s United Nations Climate Action Summit, China’s top environmental authority has reiterated the country’s commitment to fulfilling its Paris Agreement pledge, according to an official announcement.

The Ministry of Ecology and Environment said Tuesday that China will adopt “nature-based solutions” to tackle climate change, with greater efforts to improve biodiversity, forestation, and water resources, among other priorities. From 2005 to 2018, China’s carbon emission intensity — or emissions volume per unit of GPD — decreased by 45.8%, the statement said, adding that the government will continue to promote climate adaptation, as well as carbon trading, to reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

According to a study published in July in the scientific journal Nature, China’s carbon emissions are likely to peak between 2021 and 2025 — several years ahead of 2030, the target China set for itself as part of the Paris Agreement. Signed during a 2015 climate conference in the French capital, the agreement was aimed at keeping global temperatures from increasing by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This year’s Climate Action Summit is scheduled to kick off Monday in New York. The UN’s secretary-general, António Guterres, has said he hopes to “hear about how we are going to stop the increase in emissions by 2020, and dramatically reduce emissions to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century.” (Image: VCG)

3 days

Police in a central Chinese city have added a new task force to their crime patrol unit: citizen volunteers.

More than 19,000 residents in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, signed up Tuesday to patrol arm-in-arm with local police as part of the program’s most recent recruitment drive, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, reported. Locals must first register on the Xingcheng Yuanding — or “Star City Gardener” — app to volunteer, after which they are assigned to specific patrol duties.

Over 55,000 residents of Changsha have volunteered for the role since the city’s public security bureau launched the program in March. Police said they have received “tips and clues” leading to the arrest of several suspects, according to the report.

This isn’t the first time law enforcement agencies have collaborated with the public to expand their crime-busting measures. In 2016, Beijing’s public security bureau launched an app called The Chaoyang Masses, which allowed individuals to send police tips about suspicious activities. The app’s name has now become synonymous with an army of over 130,000 volunteers who go on security patrols to keep their neighborhoods safe. (Image: Courtesy of Changsha police)

4 days

All of China’s 500,000-plus villages now have direct access to the country’s postal services, allowing courier companies to effectively deliver a growing number of parcels to remote regions, according to a top government official.

Ma Junsheng, head of the State Post Bureau, said during a press conference Tuesday that every township is now served by a designated post office, making it easier for the country’s villages to access postal services. Previously, residents without a post office in their area had to travel to a neighboring township — which administers a village — for their postal needs.

Online sales in rural areas have grown rapidly in recent years, with 2019’s midyear revenues totaling 777.1 billion yuan ($109 billion), an annual increase of 21%, according to the Ministry of Commerce. Ma said that domestic couriers are expected to handle over 60 billion parcels this year, with one-fourth of these originating or being delivered in rural areas.

However, courier companies have repeatedly complained about logistical challenges when it comes to making far-flung deliveries, with some even charging rural customers extra fees. According to a Xinhua report in May, about 74.9% of villages nationwide didn’t have local delivery stations. (Image: VCG)

4 days

A Shanghai-based cybersecurity expert has warned that flashing the “scissor hand” gesture — similar to the peace sign — for the camera may be giving criminals all the information they need to copy fingerprints, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, reported Sunday.

During an event promoting China’s annual cybersecurity week, Zhang Wei, the deputy director of the Shanghai Information Security Trade Association, said that magnification features and AI-enhanced technologies make it possible to extract 100% of a person’s fingerprints from a photo taken 1.5 meters away, while around 50% of fingerprints can be extracted from photos taken 3 meters away. Zhang advised people against uploading photos incorporating the popular hand gesture, as criminals could use them to make fingerprint molds and register fingerprint-activated smart locks or mobile payment accounts.

In recent years, fingerprint authentication has become widespread in China, especially since Alipay and WeChat — multifunctional apps that have become all but indispensable in China — introduced fingerprint-based mobile payment systems in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

But the uptick in fingerprint authentication has come with privacy concerns. Last November, a report by the China Consumers Association revealed that over 90% of 100 popular apps it assessed were “over-collecting” data, including users’ fingerprints. And in March, a Shenzhen elementary school sparked backlash by collecting students’ fingerprints without their parents’ consent, supposedly as part of an “intelligence test.” (Image: VCG)

5 days

China is considering introducing a national policy that would better shield whistleblowers — especially those in the food, pharmaceutical, and health care sectors — from punishment.

According to a draft regulation Thursday, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, could “reward and strictly protect” individuals who have reported serious legal and regulatory violations. Currently, there is no national law that protects whistleblowers, and while cities like Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Suzhou have local regulations that reward industry insiders for exposing food safety violations, such measures typically lack guaranteed legal protection.

In recent years, Chinese whistleblowers have exposed a number of scandals, from a pharmaceutical company falsifying production data for a rabies vaccine to several cases of child abuse and environmental violations.

Throughout these cases, protecting the whistleblowers’ rights has been a source of concern, as many faced punishment for coming forward. One whistleblower who exposed a child abuse case in Shenzhen was fired from her job earlier this year and subjected to an unspecified “administrative penalty,” while another whistleblower was sentenced last year to 17 months in jail for “disturbing market order” after reporting industrial pollution in the central Henan province. (Image: IC)

5 days

More than half of Chinese people surveyed said they feel safe online, up 13% from last year, according to a report published Sunday as part of the country’s annual internet safety week.

Commissioned by the Network Security Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security, the survey solicited responses from a total of 221,266 internet users, including tens of thousands of “industry insiders.” It showed that, though the public’s perceptions of internet safety have improved in recent years, privacy remains a pressing concern, with 37% of the 189,000 non-insider respondents saying they think personal information leaks occur “frequently.”

In addition, over half of the nearly 32,000 industry insiders surveyed decried what they perceive as the excessive collection of personal data — including government ID numbers and call and message logs — by China’s mobile apps.

The internet safety report is the largest such survey in the country to date, according to domestic media. (Image: VCG)