Chinese officials have apologised to residents of a locked-down community in Guangzhou for removing the locks on the doors to their homes.
A number of people at the apartment complex in the southern Chinese city had recently tested positive for COVID.
Officials were searching for close contacts who may have been hiding in an attempt to avoid being moved to a quarantine centre.
China maintains a strict zero-COVID policy and quarantines are common.
Those affected by the break-ins have been told that they will be compensated for the damage.
According to the Tianmu News outlet, the locks were broken on the front doors of at least 84 homes by grassroots officials and community workers.
The incident happened on July 10, soon after several people at the complex had tested positive for the virus.
According to the Global Times newspaper, residents were moved to a centralised quarantine facility, but “some close contacts were found hiding in their houses”, leading to searches of other homes for “hidden residents”.
Video was captured of some of the break-ins and posted on popular social networks like Sina Weibo.
It sparked an angry outcry, with many calling for those involved to be arrested for illegal entry, given that trespassing falls under China’s criminal law.
The district government in Guangzhou’s Liwan District apologised yesterday, saying the break-ins “deviated from the requirements of epidemic prevention”. It said that an investigation would be carried out, and those involved punished.
Users on the popular Sina Weibo social network have called the incident “lawless” and have posted that such behaviour “tramples on people’s civil rights”.
“Is this a country ruled by law?” one person asks. “An apology is not enough,” adds another.
China has maintained a strict zero-COVID policy throughout the pandemic. Whole communities are locked down when residents test positive. They are then either restricted from leaving their homes, or moved to quarantine bases.
Very little notice is often given before a lockdown, often triggering anger and anxiety. Some lockdowns have lasted for months, as in the city of Shanghai earlier this year.
Currently, there are more than 1 000 locked-down communities in the country, as outbreaks have raged due to the highly-transmissible Omicron subvariants.
More than 90 per cent of China’s 1.4bn population is vaccinated. (BBC)