Posts wrongly claim old video shows Chinese health workers' protest after zero-Covid policy eased

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A video filmed in China's northeast Hebei province has been viewed thousands of times alongside a misleading claim it shows protesting Chinese health workers who lost their jobs after the central government eased its zero-Covid policy. While there have been reports of health workers protesting over unpaid salaries following China's policy change, the video has circulated online since at least May this year, months before major protests against pandemic restrictions broke out. According to Hong Kong media reports from the time, the footage shows workers rallying against the closure of a hospital in Hebei.

The 16-second clip of the protesting health workers -- colloquially referred to in China as "big whites" because of their white protective suits -- was posted on Twitter on December 8.

It has been viewed more than 12,000 times.

The tweet claims the video shows the workers protesting after China relaxed its zero-Covid policy. "With the relaxing of #ZeroCOVIDpolicy, this is a new problem in #China. So more #ChinaProtests are on the way," it reads.

In the video, the workers can be seen holding red banners with simplified Chinese characters in white that read: "We want jobs; we need to eat!!"

A person can be heard saying in Mandarin: "The No. 2 hospital was asked to shut down. So many people are going to lose their jobs."

Screenshot of the misleading Twitter post, taken on December 13, 2022.

The video circulated online hours after the Chinese government announced a nationwide loosening of its Covid restrictions and reduced the scope of mandatory testing, allowing some positive cases to quarantine at home and ending large-scale lockdowns, AFP reported.

The country effectively ended its harsh zero-Covid policy, following years of economic damage and simmering public discontent that erupted in nationwide demonstrations on a scale unseen in decades.

Many users appeared to believe the video shows a protest following the policy change, mocking the workers for losing their jobs.

"Karma," one user said.

"No sympathy here," another wrote. "Big whites can rot in hell."

The clip was also shared with a similar claim on Twitter here, here, and on YouTube here.

While Taiwanese media reported some health workers protested over unpaid wages after China's Covid policy change, the video in the posts predates the easing of restrictions in December.

'White guards'

A keyword search found an earlier version of the same video published on Twitter on May 10, 2022.

The post mocked the health workers for protesting in a bid to protect their jobs. The simplified Chinese tweet read: "It's too funny, isn't it? The practitioners of white terrorism 'White Guards' also know about making a living and working?"

Pandemic workers in China are also referred to as "white guards", a reference to the Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the video in the misleading posts (left) and the video from May (right):

Screenshot comparison of the video in the misleading post (left) and old tweet (right).

The same banner that reads "we want jobs; we need to eat!!" can be seen in the first screenshot comparison.

AFP found another 22-second video posted here on Twitter on May 10, 2022 that shows the same protest.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the video in the misleading posts (left) and the other Twitter video from May (right) with similarities highlighted by AFP:

Screenshot comparison of the video in the misleading post (left) and old tweet (right).

Using this, we confirmed the demonstration was staged outside the China Construction No. 2 Engineering Bureau Hospital in Tangshan city in Hebei province.

A sign with the hospital's name could be seen in the background at the six-second mark of the second Twitter video from May.

A search for the hospital name found a wider shot taken in the same location by the Chinese search engine Baidu.

Corresponding apartment blocks can be seen close to the hospital, as shown below:

A screenshot comparison of the video in the news report (left) and the photos on Baidu Maps (right).

The same apartment blocks can be seen in the video in the misleading posts (left) and on Baidu maps here and here (right), as highlighted by AFP in the screenshot below:

Hospital closure reports

Several Hong Kong news outlets also published reports about a health workers' protest in Tangshan on May 10, 2022, including a website affiliated with the Chinese-language newspaper Oriental Daily.

"Health workers protest against hospital closure in hopes of keeping their jobs," the headline in traditional Chinese reads.

"A video circulating online showed a crowd in white protective suits gathered at the gate of the China Construction No. 2 Engineering Hospital," it continues. "They held banners that read 'we want jobs; we want to eat' and 'we demand to work; object to hospital closure'."

Other Hong Kong outlets including Sing Tao Daily and Bastille Post published similar reports on the same day.

AFP has previously debunked posts related to recent protests over China's Covid policy here, here and here.