Migrant workers in Quanzhou City on Jan. 15. Photo: He Canling/Xinhua via Getty Images

Migrant workers will be most negatively affected by the travel limits that China’s local governments have imposed to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, Eli Friedman of Cornell University tells Axios.

What's happening: After travel restrictions were put in place over the Lunar New Year holiday, migrant workers with jobs in cities under lockdown can’t get back to work.

  • These laborers often have no safety net or savings, so the loss of what might be weeks of income could plunge them into dire financial straits.
  • Many industries, particularly manufacturing, rely on cheap migrant worker labor. (There are an estimated 288 million migrant workers in China.) Without employees, companies based in quarantined cities may be forced to shut down operations.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government is taking some measures to help workers by requiring employers to continue to cover basic living expenses.

  • Yes, but: Officially, China has only one labor union, which is controlled by the Communist Party. That means it largely fails to challenge true power imbalances in the system.
  • “Employees don't have any mechanism for expressing their interests,” Friedman said.

Another concern: There's a lack of access to affordable medical care.

  • “For migrant workers specifically, there is a lot of data that shows their medical insurance coverage is abysmal,” Friedman said.
  • That means it’s harder for migrant workers with the coronavirus to receive timely treatment, and they may be “staying at home for longer periods of time potentially infecting others.”

The bottom line: Migrant workers are among China’s most vulnerable, and much of China’s manufacturing industry depends on them. If they can’t get back to their jobs soon, both they and the companies they work for will suffer.

Go deeper

Updated 19 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8 p.m. ET: 19,497,292 — Total deaths: 723,854 — Total recoveries — 11,823,105Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8 p.m. ET: 4,994,276 — Total deaths: 162,381 — Total recoveries: 1,643,118 — Total tests: 61,080,587Map.
  3. Politics: Trump signs 4 executive actions on coronavirus aid.
  4. Public health: Fauci says chances are "not great" that COVID-19 vaccine will be 98% effective — 1 in 3 Americans would decline COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Science: Indoor air is the next coronavirus frontline.
  6. Schools: How back-to-school is playing out in the South as coronavirus rages on — Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Howard to hold fall classes online.

Trump signs 4 executive actions on coronavirus aid

President Trump speaking during a press conference on Aug. 8. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump on Saturday signed four executive actions to provide relief from economic damage sustained during the coronavirus pandemic after talks between the White House and Democratic leadership collapsed Friday afternoon.

Why it matters: Because the Constitution gives Congress the power to appropriate federal spending, Trump has limited authority to act unilaterally — and risks a legal challenge if congressional Democrats believe he has overstepped.

7 hours ago - World

What's next for Lebanon after the Beirut explosion

Photo: Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Beirut residents are still clearing rubble from streets that appear war-torn, days after a blast that shocked the country and horrified the world.

Why it matters: The explosion is likely to accelerate a painful cycle Lebanon was already living through — discontent, economic distress, and emigration.