The Asian Voice

Time to amend hukou, tackle mass migrations: China Daily contributor

In the article, the writer says that it is time for China to reflect on the huge pressure mass migrations puts on efforts to fight the coronavirus epidemic.

In this photo taken on Jan 27, 2020, people wearing protective masks queue to take a taxi at the Beijing railway station. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The biggest challenge in China's all-out efforts to fight the novel coronavirus that first emerged in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, was how to effectively stop the virus from spreading across the country, given that the epidemic broke out at a time when millions of people were leaving for their hometowns for Spring Festival family reunions.

Mass migrations on a massive scale were taking place across the country.

There is no doubt that mass migrations in China during the Spring Festival holiday have added to the difficulty of combating the epidemic and could trigger more outbreaks after the holiday.

What the authorities should also reflect on is how to strengthen and reform the 'hukou' or household registration system to allow migrant workers to become urban residents and thus reduce the problems caused by large-scale migrations.

China has institutional and organisational advantages that can help it mobilise resources to fight the epidemic within the shortest possible time, but such advantages come at economic and social costs.

It is near impossible to accurately compute the economic losses China will incur because of novel coronavirus, but some studies put the figure as high as trillions of yuan.

Worse, a large number of small and medium-sized service enterprises are encountering serious problems.

The urban service sector and tourism and related industries are all facing closures that could last a month or longer.

For them, the corresponding capital and cost pressures are too much to bear. In addition, the financial cost governments at all levels will incur in preventing and controlling the epidemic will be astronomical.

It is time we reflect on the huge pressure such mass migrations put on our efforts to fight the epidemic.

The country must reconsider its hukou system, which prevents migrant workers from settling down where they work to become urban residents. Only by reducing people flows can the country lower the dissemination risk that an epidemic poses.

The writer is the chief economist with the China Centre for Urban Development. China Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media organisations.

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