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    After Pre-Holiday Outbreaks, Workers Paid to Celebrate in Place

    Worried about the coronavirus, local authorities are resorting to gift vouchers and phone credit to persuade migrant workers to stay put during the Lunar New Year travel rush.

    This Lunar New Year, many Chinese cities want their residents to refrain from traveling.

    With a surge in COVID-19 outbreaks in northern provinces putting the country on edge, authorities in multiple cities are introducing financial incentives to get people to cancel their trips over the peak holiday season. This year, an estimated 3 billion trips will be made by migrant workers and others hoping to reunite with family and friends, but recent coronavirus outbreaks in some parts of the country have raised concerns that such traffic could lead to further spread.

    Wuxing District in the eastern city of Huzhou said Monday that it plans to earmark 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) in vouchers for people who stay home during next month’s New Year holidays, according to Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper. The district in Zhejiang province said those residing in Huzhou can claim their gift vouchers by scanning QR codes at designated locations, as well as through online portals. The vouchers can then be spent at various shopping outlets.

    Construction workers staying to work during the holidays will be offered one-off payments of 1,000 yuan each, with a total of 20 million yuan designated for this purpose, authorities said.

    The district also said it would provide cash incentives to migrant workers staying put during the holidays, though authorities have yet to disclose an amount, saying they have just started collecting statistics on the target group.

    “The vouchers were assigned to different departments, and the data collection work is currently ongoing for us to decide how many people will benefit,” Xu Zhoufei, a spokesperson for the Wuxing government, told Sixth Tone, adding that the district may partner with Ant Group’s mobile payment service Alipay for online registration. “We set aside this amount of money with the utmost sincerity, hoping to keep people here for the holiday.”

    In addition to vouchers, the district has earmarked 20 million yuan in cash for companies staying open during the Lunar New Year holidays, with each business eligible for up to 100,000 yuan, according to The Paper. The local government will also reimburse losses from train or plane ticket cancellations for those who have already booked their travels, and provide them with free public transportation in Wuxing until the end of February.

    The provincial capital of Hangzhou, too, has rolled out a subsidy plan for migrant workers deciding to remain there during the holidays, domestic media reported. Local authorities said they will bear travel expenses for 10,000 migrant workers who instead opt to travel before or after the holiday season.

    Migrant workers choosing to remain in Hangzhou can also apply for 20 yuan in mobile phone credit or 20 yuan in delivery allowances, according to the media report.

    Meanwhile, the city of Foshan in the southern Guangdong province has rolled out “gift packages” for local businesses consisting of coupons and vouchers to incentivize workers to stick around, according to domestic media.

    In the wake of the recent COVID-19 clusters in Hebei, Shanxi, Jilin, Heilongjiang, and Liaoning provinces, Beijing and Shanghai have urged residents not to leave over the holidays unless absolutely necessary.

    Last January, millions of people canceled their Lunar New Year travel plans after the coronavirus outbreak was widely reported just before the holiday. According to the Ministry of Transport, people made 50% fewer trips during the 2020 Lunar New Year period compared with 2019.

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: An elderly man walks down an alley in Wuhan, Hubei province, Dec. 31, 2020. Chen Quan/People Visual)