China’s Covid contract tracking shows Beijing’s rich-poor gap

HONG KONG – One person works at dozens of construction sites throughout the city. The other shopped at luxury boutiques and went skiing. Both have Covid.

The movement of two coronavirus patients in Beijing, which is trying to quell an outbreak before it holds Winter Olympic Games Starting this week, paint distinctly dramatic portraits of the city where they reside. The contrast between the two cases has stirred public debate about income inequality in China as President Xi Jinping promises to redistribute wealth from the top down.

Health officials in China, which has pursued a “zero-Covid” strategy since the pandemic began, conduct careful contact tracing for every case to minimize the risk of further transmission. The activity log they released to their first patient, a migrant worker named Yue, prompted some online commenters to describe him as “the man living the hardest life in China.”

According to the activity log, Yue moved between about 30 different construction sites in Beijing from January 1 to 18, working day and night across five districts. On New Year’s Day, he works until almost 5 a.m., while on January 10, he’s at 5 different locations in one day. Activity logs show that Yue, 44, worked for two weeks straight without a day off.

He told Chinese media that he was going home to Shandong province to New Year holiday when he learned he had the virus.

In contrast, the second patient – a 26-year-old banker surnamed Li – visited high-end shopping malls and luxury stores such as Dior and the Chow Tai Fook jewelry chain. She also went skiing on the outskirts of Beijing and watched a live comedy show.

Yue, contact via Weibo, and his wife, contacted by phone, did not respond to a request for comment. Li could not be reached for comment as her full identity is unknown.

Users on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo said the two patients’ activity logs epitomize the country’s widening gap between rich and poor and the struggles of those at the bottom. of Chinese society.

“The man and woman seem to live in the same place, but [their activity logs] suggests that they are living in two separate worlds,” one user commented.

China has grown at breakneck speed over the past four decades, raising the living standards of hundreds of millions of people along with its economy. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the number of people in China’s middle-income group has increased from about 100 million in 2010 to more than 400 million in 2019, accounting for about 30% of the entire population.

But that economic growth has also widened China’s gap between rich and poor, and it is now among the most unequal countries in the world. Last year, Mr. Xi pledged to solve this problem by introducing Campaign “Commonwealth”which he said would include efforts to “correct excessively high incomes” and “encourage high-income earners and businesses to return more to society”.

Sun Liping, a professor of sociology at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said Yue’s case illustrates the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on low-income groups. compare it with the United States.

“We must be aware that the poor are more vulnerable to the pandemic because they have unequal access to resources that can help them,” he wrote in an article posted on his WeChat account. avoid risk of exposure.

In one report announced in January, British aid group Oxfam said the pandemic has produced 20 new billionaires in Asia, even pushing 148 million people across the continent into poverty.

Yue’s case has sparked online discussion about the difficulties faced by hundreds of millions of migrant workers in China, who often have difficulty accessing public services such as healthcare. .

“The pandemic has exacerbated the gap between rich and poor and the social welfare system is not perfect here – you will encounter obstacles almost everywhere,” wrote one Weibo user.

Others disagreed, arguing that Yue represented ordinary working-class life.

“They use their own energy to make money, people shouldn’t feel sorry for him,” wrote one Weibo user. “Manual workers don’t need pity, they need respect.” China’s Covid contract tracking shows Beijing’s rich-poor gap

Jake Nichol

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