China’s Domestic Travel Curbs Upend Lives of Commuter Workers

Skift grip

China’s mobility restrictions following a strict zero-Covid policy have made life harder than before for commuter workers in border towns. They can neither return home nor find another job.

Peden Doma Bhutia

When the city of Yanjiao, near Beijing, was suddenly plunged into a Covid-19 lockdown last month, taxi driver Dong Tiejun was forced to travel hundreds of miles to avoid roadblocks and bring a passenger to Tianjin, a metropolis on the northeast coast.

As an unlicensed long-distance driver, Dong relied on a network of regulars traveling to and from Beijing via Yanjiao in Hebei province, just east of the Chinese capital. Yanjiao’s lockdown from March 13 to early April took away much of her income.

“Nobody can get out of there, so who will take your taxi? ” he said.

Millions of other white-collar and blue-collar workers whose livelihoods depend on unhindered mobility between cities have faced similar obstacles since Covid cases began to rise in March and the flow of people and goods between provinces has been disrupted by travel restrictions.

Nomura analysts estimate that 46 cities are currently under full or partial lockdown involving strict mobility restrictions for local residents, affecting the lives of 343 million people.

Border towns such as Yanjiao have grown at a dizzying pace over the past decade as office workers in Beijing sought affordable housing nearby, with hundreds of thousands of people crossing the Hebei-Beijing border daily before Covid .

Even after the lockdown for Yanjiao residents was lifted on April 4, border checkpoints were clogged in the early hours of the morning and resentment towards Covid curbs was palpable.

“I come here six days a week, every time at 5:30 a.m., the bus stop is far away, and the checkpoint is strict, the cost of riding a scooter here is also high, I think all these measures are very embarrassing,” he said. said a Yanjiao resident surnamed Gao.

Several Yanjiao commuters told Reuters another restrictive measure was the “commuter pass” which anyone entering Beijing must now obtain and constantly update.

The long list of documents needed to obtain the pass includes an owner’s ID card, a negative Covid test report with 48-hour validity, proof of vaccinations, and proof of employment in Beijing, among others.

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to get all these documents,” said Yan Chun, 21, who came to Beijing to seek work after the beauty salon she worked for in Shenzhen closed due to Covid.

“I am looking for a job, so where can I get proof of employment in Beijing?”

While major centers like Beijing and Shanghai have kept the bar high to impose strict Covid restrictions on residents, Hebei’s bedroom communities face a much stricter and mercurial situation.

Authorities in Sanhe City, which includes Yanjiao and nine other cities, said Wednesday that residents “will be banned from entering and leaving Beijing” after an “abnormal nucleic acid test” was reported.

those who work

Lao Yuan, 62, and his wife left their village in Hebei 10 years ago to work in a car factory in Beijing. In recent times, they have relied on daily labor markets in Songzhuang, on the outskirts of Beijing, near the Hebei border, usually earning around $46 a day.

After the Lunar New Year holiday, Lao Yuan’s hometown in Hebei was shut down, and his wife who went there has not been able to return to greater Beijing since. He now lives alone in a rented room in Songzhuang.

In labor markets, workers among the hundreds who gathered around 4 a.m. every day waiting for vans to take them to construction sites and factories say things have changed since the last Covid surge.

It is now common not to find work in Songzhuang even after a whole morning of waiting, said a migrant worker from Shandong Province, giving only his surname as Wang.

“I have direct relationships with factory bosses, it works better now,” Wang said.

“Most people leave at 8am, if we can’t find work we stay in our rooms resting looking at our phones.”

(Reporting by Yin Xiaoyu and Eduardo Baptista in Beijing; Editing by Ryan Woo and Lincoln Feast.)

This article was written by Xiaoyu Yin and Eduardo Baptista from Reuters and has been legally licensed through Industry Dive Content market. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].