Millions of Chinese fearful of returning home after end of restrictions
By road or sea, by plane or train, millions of Chinese are on their way to their homeland to celebrate the passage of the lunar year with their families, in the largest internal migration on the planet.
The ‘chunyun’, the travel season on the occasion of the Lunar New Year that started last Saturday, coincides this year with the end of the ‘zero cases’ policy of covid-19, raising an increase in the flow of travelers and challenges for the rural areas of China with fewer health resources.
“I had a fever of 40 degrees, but I’m happy,” a Chinese resident of Beijing, who recently recovered from a Covid-19 infection, told Lusa. “Finally I can move,” he said.
For the Chinese Xiaowang, who will travel by train the more than 2,000 kilometers that separate Beijing and her homeland, in Sichuan province, this is the first time she has gone home in two years. “It’s grueling,” she admitted of the 20-hour journey. “But this date is very important for the Chinese: it is when we get together with the family”, he said.
According to the official Xinhua news agency, in total, 34.7 million trips were made last Saturday, the first day of a 40-day period in which hundreds of millions of Chinese return to their homelands.
That number represents an increase of 38.2%, compared to 2022, after, in the last two years, the travel season was affected by the preventive measures against covid-19 in force in China.
In December, as part of the end of the ‘zero covid’ policy, the Chinese government removed restrictions on internal travel, which included the requirement for negative PCR tests to travel by plane or train and the registration of travel through a location application. .
Each city or province also had its own policies: Beijing, for example, did not allow the entry of travelers from areas where cases of covid-19 had been registered. Other locations required quarantine in designated facilities or at home for those coming from areas with active outbreaks.
The end of restrictions has given rise to an unprecedented wave of infections and the intense travel period, which takes place between January 7 and February 15, is also raising concerns.
“It’s scary”, summarized Lusa Zhao Yang, a resident of Beijing. “I waited with enthusiasm for the end of the blockades, but in view of this sudden flow of people traveling, I feel fearful”, he stressed.
The Chinese Ministry of Transport has predicted that the number of trips during the Lunar New Year season will nearly double from last year to 2.095 billion. This number would mark a recovery to 70% of traffic seen in 2019, the last year before the start of the pandemic.
The main festival for Chinese families, equivalent to Christmas in Western countries, falls this year between the 21st and 27th of January, under the sign of the Rabbit, one of the twelve animals of the ancient Chinese zodiac. In China and in all the ‘chinatowns’ around the world, buildings are decorated with red lanterns, while firecrackers and fireworks are launched in the streets to “drive away evil spirits”.
Travel abroad is also expected to rise after the country reopened its borders, which had been closed for nearly three years. Anyone arriving in China was subjected to a period of quarantine in designated facilities that, in some provinces, reached 28 days.
The number of international travel bookings for the week to January 27 was six times higher than the 2022 Lunar New Year holiday, according to Chinese booking portal Trip.com. The most popular destination is Australia, followed by Thailand and Japan.
“This year I will certainly travel across borders”, explained to Lusa Han Qing, a Chinese native of Beijing. “It’s time to reconnect with the world”.
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