Chinese provincial press conference on coronavirus inspires anger, criticism

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - In a rare sign of public discontent with the government, Chinese social media users are venting their anger at the government, after officials from Hubei province, where the coronavirus outbreak began, briefed the media on Sunday.

Some lashed out at the Hubei governor, who had to correct himself twice during a press conference over the number of face masks being produced in the province.

“The yearly output of face masks is 10.8 billion,” Wang Xiaodong said at the briefing Sunday, only having to correct himself after he was handed a piece of paper. “It’s actually 1.8 billion,” he said.

Minutes later, Wang admitted it was 1.8 million masks.

News of the press conference was trending on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter , with the hashtag “Governor of Hubei says he is agonized and feels responsible.”

“If he can mess up the data multiple times, no wonder the disease has spread so severely,” one Weibo user said.

“This is the level of a provincial governor? A few sentences of apology and he has to look at his notes five times,” said another user.

“He thinks one sentence of apology will be enough to solve the problem? Let’s await the judgment of the people of the country.”

Criticism of the Wuhan mayor and local officials has been allowed to bubble up in recent days on sites such as Weibo, although social media platforms in China usually delete such sensitive content.

A senior journalist at a Hubei newspaper run by the ruling Communist Party posted on Weibo on Friday that there should be an “immediate” change of leadership in Wuhan. That post was later removed.

Users also shared images on messaging platform Wechat, showing officials wearing their surgical masks incorrectly.

One official was shown wearing a mask that did not cover his nose, while in another image the mayor of Wuhan appeared to have his mask on upside down.

Some social media users were surprised that they were allowed to criticize high-level officials publicly.

“This is the first time I’ve criticized such a senior official, but I don’t have to worry about my account being shut down, or being blacklisted,” said one Weibo user.

Reporting by Huizhong Wu and Leng Cheng, editing by Louise Heavens