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    Chinese cities offer cash to combat people smuggling in COVID fight

    BEIJING (AFP) – Several southern Chinese cities are offering cash bounties worth tens of thousands of dollars for leads on smuggling rings that have brought coronavirus carriers from Hong Kong across the mainland border.

    Beijing has adhered to a strict zero-COVID strategy that has kept infection numbers low by employing strict border closures, targetted lockdowns and long quarantines.

    Arrivals from Hong Kong – which is battling a serious flare-up in coronavirus cases – normally undergo weeks of isolation.

    But four people tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday after illegally entering mainland China from the city without quarantine, according to local authorities who announced cash rewards for clues on people smuggling.

    A notice on Thursday by police in Huizhou, a city not far from the border, said they wanted to “mobilise the masses” to participate in anti-smuggling work and guard against imported virus cases.

    “Those who report clues on smuggling activities found to be illegal or criminal will be given a reward of up to CNY200,000,” Huizhou authorities said.

    They also detailed different cash amounts for reporting smuggling boats or organising for others to illegally cross borders.

    Similar notices have been issued in at least five other cities, with one district saying it gave out CNY10,000 barely a day after announcing the reward. Two positive coronavirus cases were found in central Hunan province this week, with local police saying they “entered from Hong Kong through illegal means” via a coastal city before using a waiting vehicle and mobile phones to make their way further inland.

    They are now being investigated by public security.

    The other pair was discovered in southern Guangdong province on Tuesday, after having entered mainland China the day before.

    According to Hong Kong media reports, 15 people have been smuggled into mainland China in recent days via a city in Guangdong province.

    Hospitals in the financial hub have been overwhelmed as authorities battle an Omicron-fuelled coronavirus wave, with Chinese leader Xi Jinping calling for Hong Kong to take “all necessary measures” to bring the outbreak under control.

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