Missing son of hard-luck Chinese labourer long dead, say police

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BEIJING (AFP) – The story of a Chinese migrant worker whose plight sparked a wave of online sympathy after he tested positive for COVID-19 took another sad twist on Friday (Jan 21), as police said his missing son was long dead.

The 44-year-old labourer surnamed Yue became one of China’s most talked-about topics this week after he was found to be among a handful of new COVID-19 cases in Beijing.

As part of its zero-Covid strategy, China publishes anonymised details of where coronavirus carriers have been, in a bid to help with contact tracing.

Yue’s itinerary exposed a harsh life of working dozens of odd jobs, hauling construction materials often late at night, to support his extended family and help finance searches for a missing son.

Yue said his 21-year-old son Yue Yuetong was reported missing in eastern Shandong province in August 2020 and that he had filed a petition to higher-level authorities.

Police in the city of Weihai, which falls under the jurisdiction where the son was reported missing, said on social media on Friday that a “severely decomposed” corpse found in a local reservoir in August 2020 was identified via DNA.

“(The) public security bureau conducted DNA identification using blood samples taken from Yue and his wife… which confirmed it was Yue’s son, but the couple did not accept the DNA identification results,” the police statement said, adding the couple had since launched legal action.

Former fisherman Yue said he went to Beijing last year because his son had once worked there as a chef, after taking a variety of odd jobs in various provinces in the meantime.

The hashtag “the hardest-working Chinese person found by contact tracers” gained millions of views on social media before it was deactivated on Friday.

China’s censorship system also limited sharing of some news reports about Yue on social media.

Many online commenters contrasted Yue’s plight with the lifestyle of Beijing’s first Omicron patient, a bank employee who shopped at luxury malls and went skiing, according to an itinerary disclosed by local authorities.

Yue visited two dozen locations including construction sites for work from Jan 1 to Jan 17, often late at night, and ate out only once – a typical lifestyle for China’s hundreds of millions of migrant workers.

Beijing is battling a fresh COVID-19 outbreak just days before the start of the Winter Olympics, reporting six new locally transmitted cases over the past week.

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