January 7, 2023 — As COVID-19 cases are already rising in China, millions of people are traveling home to visit relatives for the Lunar New Year, which began on Saturday.
China’s Ministry of Transport forecast on Friday that more than 2 billion passengers will hit the road during the 40-day holiday period, an increase of 99.5% from last year and reaching 70.3% of the total number of passengers. travel figures from 2019, before the pandemic, Reuters reported.
People stayed at home for the last three years due to the government’s “zero COVID” policy, which included many travel restrictions. That policy damaged the economy and created widespread public discontent. The government loosened those restrictions late last year, which has already resulted in a spike in cases and strained the health care system.
Another surge in cases caused by travel could further strain the health care system, especially in rural areas with few hospitals and health care centers, authorities predicted.
“What worries us the most is that after three years, everyone… can finally go home for the new year to visit their relatives,” said Jiao Yahui, an official with China’s National Health Commission, according to The New York Times. “How to deal with the spike of infection in vast rural areas has become a great challenge.”
The Chinese government is opening more rural clinics and prioritizing high-risk patients, especially the elderly with underlying conditions, so they can be rushed from villages to hospitals, Reuters reported.
After years of telling people to stay put, China is opening up travel opportunities.
On Sunday, China reopened its border with its Hong Kong special administrative region, prompting a rush of travellers, Reuters said. In late December, China announced that it would end quarantine requirements for people traveling to China from other nations.
The World Health Organization says China is underestimating the severity of the current outbreak, Reuters reported. China is reporting five or fewer COVID deaths a day since the “zero COVID” policy was lifted, but many funeral homes and hospitals say they are inundated, Reuters said. International health experts predict at least 1 million COVID-related deaths in China this year.