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2021-08-27 07:49:43

As China strives to increase the COVD-19 vaccination rate among its population, a tug of war is playing out between different governmental departments, with unvaccinated people being lured from neighboring areas ostensibly to boost local inoculation figures.

Authorities in Xinshao County, in the central Hunan province, issued a notice on Sunday that said they would “strictly punish” anyone involved in organizing and transporting local residents out of the county to get vaccinated elsewhere. People reporting such schemes would be rewarded, it said.

It might be a case of “it takes one to know one.” A Xinshao elementary school teacher surnamed Xiao told Sixth Tone that she recently received an order from the local education bureau saying each teacher should arrange for at least one person from outside the county to get vaccinated in Xinshao. “If you fail, your merit evaluation will be canceled,” Xiao quoted the order as saying.

District governments in Handan, in the northern Hebei province, have also called on people to stop taking local residents to get vaccinated elsewhere. Police in Handan’s Qiu County punished a man for recruiting people on social media to get COVID-19 shots in neighboring towns.

On social site Weibo, posts by people from a variety of areas claim to offer pick-up services and cash rewards for any unvaccinated people willing to get their shots.

China pursues a zero-case strategy, keeping borders largely shut and adopting aggressive outbreak control measures in the hope that a high enough vaccination rate will allow the country to open up safely. No local vaccination quotas have publicly been announced, but officials’ decision-making suggests they are under pressure to have as many people as possible vaccinated against COVID-19.

It has led to another intra-governmental struggle about how much coercion can be applied to convince people to get shots. In July, the country’s highest health authorities reiterated that vaccination is voluntary after local governments across the country had announced that unvaccinated people would lose access to facilities such as hospitals, malls, and public transport.

Nevertheless, such initiatives keep popping up. Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported Wednesday that low-level officials in the northwestern Qinghai province had warned that families with an unvaccinated member would have their welfare payments suspended. A worker at the residential community in question told The Paper that services wouldn’t really be suspended and that the warning was only meant to scare people into getting vaccinated.

During a press conference on Friday, a senior official from the central education department once more criticized schools that continue to insist students can only return for their upcoming fall classes if they, as well as their immediate family members, have received COVID-19 vaccines.

As of Thursday, China had administered more than 2 billion shots of mostly two-dose COVID-19 vaccines.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A child receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Neijiang, Sichuan province, July 28, 2021. People Visual)