China is racing to vaccinate millions ahead of the country’s Lunar New Year travel rush next month.
Fearing a surge of Covid-19 cases, lost profits and possible lockdowns, local governments and factories are offering workers incentives not to go home for the Chinese New Year holiday in February, reports Reuters.
Incentives to stay and keep working include extra pay, prizes, entertainment, free New Year’s Eve banquets and staggered holiday arrangements.
The New Year usually sees the majority of the country’s 280 million rural migrant workers, as well as millions of white-collar workers who live far from home, travel back to spend rare time with their family.
But crowded mass travel increases the risk of coronavirus infections and the rapid Covid-19 spread during last year’s holidays trapped many workers in their villages for months and forced them into long quarantines when they finally returned to the cities.
Factories were paralysed, industrial production plummeted, and workers lost weeks of income.
Companies usually pay more to those who work over the festival, but this year local governments and companies are hoping far more will take up the offer to stay in the city.
Most provinces have issued notices encouraging workers to stay, citing the importance of epidemic control as well as “guaranteeing the stability of industrial and supply chains”.
Demand for industrial labour is high. China’s manufacturing recovery, fuelled by demand from pandemic-constrained consumers abroad, has exceeded expectations this year, with factories struggling to overcome a shortage of workers.
A notice from the government of Ningbo, a port and industrial hub in Zhejiang province, said a halt to production over Chinese New Year at a time of soaring foreign demand could “cause companies huge losses”.
As workers heed the call, China’s state planner said it expects “markedly lower” holiday travel than other years.
Wang Zhishen, a container factory worker in export hub Dongguan, said he will probably stay if his factory remains open, despite having already bought a train ticket home to Gansu province, 2,000km away.
“What if you get unlucky and get infected on the way home? Then your whole family might get sick,” he said. “Going home is too risky.”
Southern Jiangxi province, a major source of migrant workers, expects travel to be around 60% of 2019 levels.
One chemicals company in Zhejiang told local media 85% of its workers plan to stay this year, lured by double hourly pay and an extra 500 yuan (US$77, RM300) reward for full-time attendance over the festival period.
However, for some, especially those who don’t have employers who can offer prizes and guaranteed work over the holidays, going home to families is still worth the risk.
At Beijing railway station this week, Wang, a 64-year-old migrant construction worker was rushing back to his village in eastern Shandong province before it enters lockdown.
“I have to get back before then, it’s the only way for me” he told Reuters, after arriving at the station seven hours before his train left Beijing.