Don’t go home for the Lunar New Year, Chinese workers urged

A deserted railway station in Shenyang, Liaoning province, on Jan 28, as the pandemic disrupted 2021 Lunar New Year travel.
PHOTO: Xinhua

Chinese workers have been urged not to make “unnecessary” trips home for Lunar New Year for the second consecutive year, as authorities nationwide tighten Covid-19 preventive measures after confirmed infections surged in the eastern province of Zhejiang.

As many as 47 – or nearly 80 per cent – of China’s 59 locally infected cases reported on Saturday were in Zhejiang province, according to the National Health Commission.

The northern region of Inner Mongolia, which has been battling an outbreak for weeks, accounted for 10 cases.

The latest cluster in the cities of Ningbo, Shaoxing and Hangzhou in Zhejiang involved 139 local infections in the past week, the provincial government said on Sunday.

Various local authorities in the province have tightened preventive measures in view of the outbreak, including restrictions on indoor activities.

All schools in Zhenhai district in Ningbo switched to online teaching from Wednesday, while Shangyu district in Shaoxing was put under lockdown on Saturday afternoon, with no vehicles or people allowed in or out unless absolutely necessary.

Zhejiang, a coastal province on the East China Sea, is a major manufacturing powerhouse and home to tech giant Alibaba and Ningbo-Zhoushan port, the world’s largest in terms of cargo tonnage. Alibaba is the owner of the South China Morning Post.

During the last wave of the pandemic in Zhejiang in August, a confirmed case among workers at the port put a key terminal under lockdown for two weeks, causing shipping congestion and wreaking havoc on the global supply chain.

To prevent the spread of the virus under China’s zero-tolerance approach towards Covid-19, local authorities around the country have started to urge residents to avoid “unnecessary” trips to their hometown for the Lunar New Year holiday – just as they did the last time around.

Medical workers take swab samples for Covid-19 testing at a market in Hangzhou on Dec 10. PHOTO: Xinhua

China has for decades borne witness to the world’s largest annual human migration in the lead-up to the Lunar New Year, as people – the vast majority of them migrant workers – travelled home for family reunions. But that pattern was disrupted by the pandemic last year. This year’s holiday starts on January 31, Lunar New Year’s eve.

A district in Zhangjiakou in Hebei province, one of the host cities for the Winter Olympics, has urged public sector employees, and Communist Party and government workers, “to set an example, by celebrating the holiday locally” and avoid travelling during the holiday.

It also called on all residents to persuade loved ones not to return from overseas or from medium- and high-risk regions within the country.

“If there is a necessity [to travel], strict examination and approval management should be carried out,” an official announcement from the district said on Thursday.

In the southern province of Guangdong, another export and manufacturing hub, local enterprises in Sanxiang county in Zhongshan were urged to encourage employees to stay put for the holidays. And in Pingxiang, a city in neighbouring Guangxi province, all stores have been asked to encourage staff not to travel.

Meanwhile, local authorities have ramped up punishments for those who conceal or falsely report their whereabouts and impede contact tracing.

A doctor and Communist Party member in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia, was expelled from the party on Friday for falsely reporting her movements after being infected. Further police investigation is under way.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.