The Lunar New Year holiday period already started. China’s biggest holiday, which this year falls on 22 January, has thousands of families preparing to reunite with families as the country finally abandoned its zero-Covid policy.
The regained freedom of movement is expected to see millions of people travelling from big cities to their hometowns in the countryside as well as abroad. Called, China’s “great migration”, the Ministry of Transport estimates over 2 billion people will travel over the next few weeks, a staggering 99.5% increase compared to last year and 70.3% of the 2019 level.
However, some are still anxious to travel for the Lunar New Year. After the government lifted pandemic controls back in December, Covid cases began to go up. On December 29th, China’s chief epidemiologist Wu Zunyou assured at a press conference that infections in populous cities such as Tianjin, Chengdu Beijing had reached their limit. Official numbers now cite about 5,000 cases per day, but many think this is severely misinforming, the BBC reporting the “daily case load may be closer to a million”, with overwhelmed hospitals and a nationwide lack of basic medicine.
“I am really worried because the train stations will be packed. Even though my parents have recovered from Covid, there are now so many variants out there I worry that I might catch it”, a 31-year-old woman told The Guardian. “There is a huge outbreak on the mainland now and if I get infected while being back home, I won’t be able to return for the new term”, added a Chinese student studying in Hong Kong.
Besides catching the virus themselves, people travelling home for the holidays risk endangering their older relatives who have not had contact with Covid-19 yet or are not vaccinated. With the villages’ limited ICU capacity and ventilators, authorities have indicated a plan to boost grassroot medical services, including opening more clinics in rural areas. In the meantime, all high-risk patients are directly transferred to higher-level hospitals.
Fearing that the country is not transparently reporting the evolution of the epidemic, the European Union, along with other states around the world, started asking for negative pre-departure tests from people travelling from China. Opinions about this decision are split, with the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) calling it unjustified. The centre said testing wastewater from airplanes is sufficient for detecting possible new variants of the virus, which would be the only concern.