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Radio Free Asia

Prices Soar Amid Epidemic of Coronavirus Profiteering in China

2020-02-27 -- Profiteering is on the rise amid the coronavirus epidemic in China, with food aid going to waste amid rising food prices in worst-hit Hubei province, RFA has learned.

Officials in China are violating the country's laws on medical quarantine during the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic by forcing people to pay for their own keep while being held in isolation and observation, residents said on Thursday.

Hubei resident Wang Yan said township and village committees are charging quarantine fees to anyone coming in from elsewhere who remains in 14 days' mandatory quarantine.

"[In Xiangyang], anyone coming from out of town has to stay in quarantine for 14 days, and they are being charged more than 6,000 yuan in hotel charges," Wang Yan said.

"Some of them don't have that money, and they are being prevented from leaving after their quarantine is over," she said. "They have to pay for their own food and accommodation."

"Some people are making huge profits off the back of this opportunity," Wang Yan said.

A Hubei resident surnamed Mao said local officials in a district of Guangzhou, capital of the southern province of Guangdong, are charging people 8,400 yuan for their quarantine stay.

Mao said the practice is in clear violation of central government rules.

"I have observed lately all around the country ... that quarantine fees are being collected from returning migrant workers ranging from 6,000 yuan to 8,400 yuan," Mao said.

"According to Article 41 of the Law of the People's Republic of China on Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, quarantine measures must be implemented by the people's government at or above the county level and ensure people's daily living needs are met," he said.

Hospitals hiking meal prices

Rather, the law states that the authorities should compensate people held under quarantine for financial losses incurred by not being available for work, Mao said.

"People in quarantine shouldn't have to pay for anything," he said.

In Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic, hastily constructed cabin hospitals are hiking the prices they charge to patients for meal provision.

Wuchang and Qiaokou Fangcai hospitals recently raised the daily meal charge from 100 yuan for three meals to 150 yuan, according to an official document seen by RFA.

Jianghan Fangcai hospital also hiked its charge from 130 yuan a day to 150 yuan a day.

Meanwhile, donated shipments of vegetables and other foods are being left to rot in the central Chinese province of Hubei, amid a highly bureaucratized system that fails to deliver aid to where it's most needed.

Social media posts have been accusing local officials of siphoning off coronavirus relief supplies, including medical equipment, for the past few weeks.

But residents of Wuhan say patients who have been isolated by the authorities as part of epidemic control measures are now being charged anything up to 8,000 yuan for meals and accommodation during their stay in government facilities.

The charges apply both to hospital patients receiving treatment and people who are isolated because they are close contacts of known coronavirus patients.

As transportation links were shut down by the central government, so the inward flow of goods supplying Wuhan's estimated 11 million residents with food slowed, sending prices ever higher.

'Left to rot'

Local authorities have been spotted by social media users dumping large sacks of white radishes, carrots and green vegetable -- even meat -- into garbage bins, with some posts showing them even digging a huge pit to bury the rotting supplies, because no distribution network is in place to deliver them where they are needed.

"This is how we reached the point of national crisis," an Wuhan-based volunteer surnamed Wang told RFA on Thursday. "People are sending us fresh meat and vegetables from across the country, but once these donated goods get to Hubei, nobody coordinates [what happens next].

"They are all just left to rot. Why? Because the government has to guarantee the supply of foreign-invested and state-owned supermarket chains," he said. "If all of this free stuff is given to ordinary people, then that would be bad for their interests, wouldn't it?"

He said bureaucrats at every level were instituting systems of passes and permits to restrict foreign food aid being sent to help Wuhan in its hour of need.

"These bureaucrats are going against the spirit of what the central government has ordered, and are doing nothing to help ordinary people," Wang said.

He called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to send someone to Wuhan to investigate, and to ensure that relief donations are actually delivered to people living through the epidemic in the city.

Mainland China reported a total of 78,497 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, 65,596 of which were in Hubei. The province has reported 2,641 deaths from the virus to date.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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