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China offers rewards to virus 'spies' as death toll spirals

Money offered for information on people moving from infected areas ends up wasting resources, some say

UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

Published: February 10, 2020 08:25 AM GMT

Updated: February 10, 2020 08:39 AM GMT

China offers rewards to virus 'spies' as death toll spirals

People wearing face masks commute on a subway train in Chinese capital Beijing on Feb. 10. The number of confirmed infections in China's coronavirus outbreak has reached 40,172 nationwide with more than 3,000 new cases reported, the National Health Commission said on Feb. 10. (Photo: STR/AFP)

In its struggle to fight the spiraling death toll from coronavirus, China has offered rewards to those sharing information about people visiting their villages from virus-infected locations.

The measure comes as the extended Lunar New Year holiday ended over the weekend, raising concerns about millions traveling to work and increasing the chances of spreading the virus across the country.

The virus first reported in Wuhan has already claimed more than 900 lives in China and infected over 40,000, stoking public suspicion of people from Hubei province.

The same is true of people from the provinces of Zhejiang and Anhui, where a large number of cases have been confirmed.

In the eastern Chinese city of Tai’an, authorities offered US$190 as a reward for reporting people engaged in “illegal and criminal activities” such as hoarding medical clothing or selling it at premiums.

One area of Shijiazhuang city, the capital of northern China’s Hebei province, offered cash incentives of 2,000 yuan (US$288) to anyone who reports people who have traveled in the past two weeks to Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, the epicenter of the virus outbreak.

The northeastern city of Changchun in Jilin province threatened to slap a fine of US$380 on people who violate home quarantine measures.

Sanjiao town in Guangdong province took a positive approach. It promised a set of 30 masks for anyone providing “effective clues” on people from Hubei province entering the town after Jan. 26.

“Sanjiao town uses masks as bait to get information. This is a waste of public resources. I do not recommend this rewarding,” Peng Jianxi, a Catholic and a resident of Shenzhen, told UCA News.

Li Pengfei, a Catholic who lives in the Danghan area of Anhui province, said the local administration has also implemented a monetary reward. “If the visitors are verified to be from Hubei, the informer will be rewarded.”
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Huang Hu, a villager on the western outskirts of Zhengzhou city, Henan province, said the city’s borders were closed by the end of January to prevent outsiders from entering.

“I was among those responsible for guarding the intersection. Several people took turns to guard the village entrance,” Hu said.

“One must report people from Hubei. Even if they are free of illness, they must be isolated for a period of time. This is no joke. I will report without waiting for the reward because this is not a matter of money. It is a concern to everyone’s life.” 

Xu Baolu, a Catholic from Wenzhou in Zhejiang province, also wanted people from affected areas to report their presence to concerned authorities.

“We do not want to discriminate against patients, but we all should collaborate in the effort to check the spread of the virus,” he said.

He pointed out that 4,000 people were isolated in Jinjiang, Fujian. “It would not have been necessary to isolate all of them if people were responsible and reported voluntarily.”

However, he did not agree with the idea of rewards for information. “People can give wrong information looking for easy money, and the staff responsible will have to verify cases one by one. It will be a waste of resources.”

For example, by Feb. 4, two days after Tangshan city in Hebei province promised rewards of 3,000 yuan, authorities had received 79 reports, but only one case became eligible to receive a reward.

A person working in the public security department agreed that rewards have become “a waste of public resources.”

He also urged visitors from affected areas to report their status voluntarily. “This not only helps one to check against the virus but also to protect those around you," he said.

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