Elderly people over 60 who refuse to get a Covid-19 vaccine will not have their basic medical insurance suspended, a local government in China’s port city of Wenzhou has clarified, after a notice from community officials sparked alarm. Residents of the community in Wenzhou’s Kunyang town had been notified that, unless they had hospital certificates to exempt them, unvaccinated elderly people would be barred from public spaces like supermarkets, the Beijing-based China News Weekly reported on Wednesday. Moreover, their basic medical insurance would be suspended, as would benefits such as living allowances and severe disability payouts, the state-run magazine said in its report. The Chinese government provides basic medical insurance for both urban and rural residents, including health coverage for minors and people without jobs. “This rule is mandatory, but our intentions are good,” the magazine quoted a staff member of the Kunyang epidemic prevention and control office as saying. “We want everyone to be healthy.” However, in a statement issued on Thursday, the local government of the town in eastern Zhejiang province said there was no such policy, and community officials had no right to suspend residents’ insurance benefits. The notice had been a “misreading by individual community officials” who have since been “severely reprimanded and educated”, the statement said. Chinese social media users reacted with anger and scepticism. “If you use words like ‘misreading’ to explain [the issue], then the standard of grass-roots officials is really worrying. How do people who can’t even read the spirit of documents get into management positions?” wrote one user on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform. “Here we go, it’s all a misunderstanding. If a report comes out and you get scolded then it’s all a misunderstanding,” another said. A staff member of the Kunyang epidemic prevention office told the Post on Thursday that the local government did not have a policy of punishing unvaccinated elderly people, but community leaders may have promoted such a policy to encourage people to get vaccinated. Vaccination is voluntary in China, but the government has been strongly encouraging residents, especially the vulnerable elderly, to get their Covid-19 shots. Some local governments have even resorted to mandatory quotas to boost uptake among over-60s, making it the task of officials to convince the elderly to get vaccinated. Beijing city offers elderly Covid vaccine insurance As of May 5, more than 36 million residents over 60 were yet to be vaccinated, representing nearly 14 per cent of the age group, according to National Health Commission data. Among older groups, the rates are even lower: only 51 per cent of over-80s were fully vaccinated as of mid-March, with just 20 per cent of them having received a booster shot. Older people generally have inherently weaker immune systems, and most have various underlying diseases, raising their risk of serious illness and death from Covid-19.