Under China’s Strict COVID Controls, Workers Who Return to Their Hometown for New Year Holiday Could Be Jailed

By Jenny Li
Jenny Li
Jenny Li
Jenny Li has contributed to The Epoch Times since 2010. She has reported on Chinese politics, economics, human rights issues, and U.S.-China relations. She has extensively interviewed Chinese scholars, economists, lawyers, and rights activists in China and overseas.
January 28, 2022Updated: January 28, 2022

China is reinforcing its epidemic zero-tolerance policy for the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year in a bid to cut off population flows for and to ensure the smooth running of the Olympic games. Transient workers are being threatened with jail if they return to their hometowns with “malicious intent” and some local authorities have encouraged the reporting of close contacts with infected cases by offering incentives.

On Jan. 20, Bincheng municipal authority in Shandong Province announced a reward of 100–500 yuan ($16–$78) for those who report information on the prevention and control of Delta variant and Omicron transmission. Information considered valuable includes people withholding personal residence history when traveling to other regions and overseas, people concealing individual movement in close contact with infected cases, suspected cases, asymptomatic infected persons, people going out privately during home surveillance; and people gathering at meetings, temples, and ceremonies.

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials took stricter approaches because the Beijing Winter Olympics are only two weeks away, about which, CCP’s head Xi Jinping issued a directive on Jan. 4, stressing that the game must be run in a stable way.

Epoch Times Photo
A medical worker performs a PCR test in Beijing, China, on Jan. 10, 2022. (Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)

However, as of Jan. 24, new local infections had been detected in Beijing. Cai Qi, secretary of the Beijing Municipal Party Committee, requested on Jan. 17 to double down “zero policy” to “ensure the success of the Winter Olympics” and asked citizens to “spend the Chinese Lunar New Year in Beijing and not to leave the city unless necessary.” The important Chinese festival will continue from Jan. 30 to Feb. 6 according to official holiday regulations.

Beijing painter Zhang Le (a pseudonym) told The Epoch Times that the CCP is willing to do whatever it takes, regardless of the toll on people’s interests, for the sake of saving face during the Winter Olympics. “The CCP has never treated the people as human beings. In the past, it used a grid-based prison … and now it uses zero-policy to freeze the flow of people.”

Last month, more than 80,000 residents of Pinggu district in Beijing, where Zhang Le lives, were asked to do nucleic acid testing, allegedly because of the presence of close contact with infected cases.

According to Zhang, the CCP’s zero policy has done more harm than good. Not only does it fail to achieve the goal of “zeroing out,” but large-scale nucleic acid testing also increases the chances of getting infected.

On Jan. 20, Dong Hong, the chief of Dancheng county, Zhoukou city, Henan Province, said at a meeting that people who return to their hometowns will be “isolated and detained.” The video of his speech circulated online and sparked public outrage.

Dong then further explained that anyone who does not comply with the regulations on epidemic prevention and control and returns home with “malicious intent” will be isolated before being detained, which fueled more public anger.

It’s a Chinese traditional custom to go home for family reunite during the New Year, said Zhang, “Why are people returning to their hometown called malicious? Saying so is inhumane and unreasonable.”

In order to curb the tide of homecomings, some local governments are also issuing subsidies, consumer vouchers, and providing free parking as an incentive for people not to return home for the New Year.

On Jan. 8, the Hefei municipal authority of Anhui Province issued a bonus for those who stay in Hefei from Jan. 26 to Feb. 9 at a rate of 1,000 yuan (approximately $157.97) per person, according to state-run CCTV.

In Zhejiang Province’s Ningbo city, the standard subsidy for non-returnees is 100–500 yuan ($16–$78) per person per day; Shaoxing municipal authority gave the 500-1,000 yuan ($78–$158) stay-at-home bonus to employees; Wenzhou municipal authority gave 50,000 to 100,000 yuan ($7,898 to $15,800) to enterprises as an incentive for keeping foreign employees stay put.

According to Zhang, the CCP preventing people from returning to their hometowns on the New Year holiday violates the evolving principles of infectious disease, as the Omicron virus has been found internationally to be the equivalent of the flu, with a very low mortality rate.

Epoch Times Photo
Firefighters spray disinfectant at the Yangzhou East train station in Yangzhou in China’s eastern Jiangsu province on Sept. 16, 2021. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Train stations became quiet and empty under the authorities’ severe blockage of the flow of people. According to Chinese media, on Jan. 17, typically the first day of the tide of New Year’s homecomings, the waiting hall of Beijing West Railway Station appeared “somewhat empty.” The entrance of Beijing South Railway Station was empty too, without a crowded queue of passengers as it was in previous years. At the bus hub in the north square of the South Railway Station, passengers on the platform were sparse.

At Zhengzhou Railway Station, a transportation hub, the east square was sparsely populated and the west square was closed. Car lanes were empty, with only a few people walking past within a few hundred meters.

Kristalina Georgieva, president of the International Monetary Fund, said that China’s zero-tolerance approach to the pandemic is increasingly a burden. It affects China’s own economic recovery and that of the world, The Guardian reported.