Beijing: Chinese paid to not travel for Lunar New Year holiday

(SCMP) – Companies and local governments are offering workers and urban residents financial incentives to stay at home ahead of China’s New Year celebrations next month.

Cash bonuses, shopping vouchers, movie tickets, free entry to local attractions, and even food and decorations are among the incentives being offered to deter Chinese people from the customary mass migration that occurs every year at this time as they travel to be reunited with families.

Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in China. The 16-day celebration – which culminates in the main event on February 12 this year – usually includes reunions with loved ones and trips to locations that usually attract large crowds.

Chinese transport authorities estimate that 300 million rail trips alone will be made across the country during the celebrations this year. Last year’s lockdowns and government travel bans saw a drop of 50.3 per cent to 1.47 billion journeys – including air, train and bus travel – from the previous year.

With China battling to contain a spike in coronavirus cases that sent 11 million people in Heibei province into lockdown last week and saw the northeastern province of Heilongjiang on the Russian border declare a state of emergency, officials are calling for the country to proceed cautiously with celebrations.

Local administrators in Foshan, a factory town in Guangdong, southern China sent an open letter to residents offering shopping vouchers, free entry to tourist spots, movie tickets, food and new year decorations to entice them to not travel to be with families.

“Reducing the risk of spreading the virus, protecting yourself and your family, these are the best presents you can give yourselves as well as your city,” the letter said. “We sincerely suggest that you stay with Foshan for the 2021 new year.”

In Xiancheng, a district in the city of Suzhou in Jiangsu province, north of Shanghai, the local government has pledged to give residents 500 yuan (US$77) each and to halve the cost to companies of renting state-owned flats if they offer the same gift to their employees.

In Haicang, a district of Xiamen in Fujian province, southeast China, the government announced a subsidy of 11 million yuan for residents who stay in the port city during the celebrations.

“A temporary parting is for a better reunion,” China’s state broadcaster CCTV declared. “Let us persist and welcome a victory.”