China charges man who pushed for birthday party despite coronavirus ban

BEIJING (Reuters) - Prosecutors in China have brought criminal charges against a 59-year-old man who strapped on firecrackers and doused himself with gasoline to defy a ban on public gatherings during a coronavirus epidemic, the Xinhua news agency said.

The resident of the southwestern city of Chongqing planned a birthday banquet for more than ten tables of guests on Jan. 28, the state-run agency said on Wednesday, but local officials battling the outbreak asked him to cancel the plan.

But on Jan. 26, after the man failed to convince them to let the party go ahead, he wrapped firecrackers round his waist, poured gasoline on his chest and held up a lighter, trying to threaten them into agreeing.

“The actions prevented town and village cadres from carrying out epidemic prevention and control work,” Xinhua said, adding that 10 patients visiting a clinic on a lower level of the same building had also been affected.

It was not immediately clear what kind of penalties the man would face if convicted.

Authorities have banned large gatherings, such as banquets and parties, as they try to rein in the virus epidemic, which has killed more than 1,100 and infected more than 40,000 in China.

Reporting by Se Young Lee and Colin Qian; Editing by Clarence Fernandez