The district governments of the metropolis that comprises Wuhan — the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China — have announced plans to give cash rewards to local residential areas that have successfully curbed the spread of COVID-19.
The incentive rules stipulate that regions and large facilities, such as rural villages and apartment complexes, will receive up to 500,000 yuan ($72,000) for reporting no new cases of infection. Per the Beijing News (in Chinese), the policies were in line with a high-level initiative launched by the Wuhan municipal government on March 1 that mandates every resident to be thoroughly examined.
As of March 6, a dozen districts in Wuhan have come up with criteria for identifying virus-free communities as well as financial incentives. In the East Lake Scenic Area (东湖风景区 dōnghúfēngjǐngqū), neighborhoods applying for cash rewards need to fulfill certain tasks and meet a string of requirements, such as investigating potential coronavirus patients, and certifying that residents have tested negative for the virus or have no signs of infection. Once certified as virus-free by the district government, residential compounds will receive 50,000 yuan ($7,200) as a reward. Villages and townships that meet the criteria are eligible for 200,000 yuan ($28,800).
Meanwhile, the local government of Qingshan district is looking to hand out a maximum of 500,000 yuan ($72,000) for subdistricts that have done “an outstanding job” combating the epidemic.
To prevent local officials from downplaying the situation for the sake of financial benefits, the Wuhan government also ordered district offices to publicly announce “virus-free communities” and be subject to public supervision. According to the Beijing News, in response to the command, the Qiaokou district has been updating its digital map that highlights virus-free areas on social media every day, while the Jiangan district has vowed to severely punish people who purposefully underreport numbers of cases and cause the epidemic to rebound.
Since China announced the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus on December 31, the city, which is highly suspected to be the origin point for the newly discovered virus, has been hardest hit by the epidemic with a death toll of more than 300 COVID-19 patients. But things seem to have turned around in Wuhan. As Reuters points out, on March 1, Wuhan reported 193 new infections, the lowest since January 26. In line with the sharp decline in new cases, as of March 8, Wuhan has closed 11 temporary medical facilities built to house and treat COVID-19 patients, Sixth Tone reported.
In theory, the financial incentives are a continuation of other measures that Wuhan has utilized to bring the outbreak under control, such as putting its 11 million residents under full lockdown. But given that Chinese officials have a track record of using their positions for personal financial gains, a great number of internet users have expressed strong oppositions (in Chinese) to the new policies. “I imagine that driven by these financial incentives, many local officials will lie about the disease’s progression in their areas,” a Weibo user wrote.
Some people on social media pointed to a recent incident in a Wuhan residential complex, where residents high up in an apartment building shouted down “It’s all fake” when a senior government leader led an inspection tour below to check how effectively the local officials had been dealing with the outbreak. “Considering how far Wuhan officials were willing to go to put up a show like that, it’s highly doubtful that these cash rewards will actually benefit ordinary people in Wuhan,” a person wrote on Weibo.
Critical observers also raised questions over whether virus-free neighborhoods actually deserved to be rewarded. “For officials in virus-stricken areas, having patients of coronavirus doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing a bad job containing the epidemic. After all, no matter how much work they do, they have no control over people who act recklessly in the face of the virus,” a Weibo user commented.