Travel surged in China for the Lunar New Year holiday after Covid restrictions were lifted
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China saw 226 million domestic trips over the Lunar New Year holiday, state media reported, a 74% increase from last year after the government lifted all travel restrictions under its now-abandoned zero-covid policy.
For the first time in three years, Chinese people were able to travel without the hassle of quarantine or fear of lockdown for the most important holiday of the year, when families could celebrate the New Year in their hometowns or go on vacation together.
The number of trips within China was the highest since 2020 during the week-long holiday ending Friday. This includes traveling by all means, from flights, trains and cars to boats.
But the number still fell far below pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, 421 million domestic trips were made on holidays.
Sluggish demand for travel has seen China's tourist hotspots flood with crowds during the holidays, from the tropical beaches of Hainan Island to the ancient villages of mountainous Yunnan Province.
Foreign travel also skyrocketed after China finally reopened its borders earlier this month. During the Lunar New Year holiday, 2.88 million trips were made across the border, up 120% from last year, according to the National Immigration Administration.
During the Lunar New Year holiday in 2019, 12.53 million cross-border trips were made, Xinhua news agency reported.
The Chinese government abruptly abandoned its costly zero-covid policy in December after massive protests against strict lockdowns and Covid testing.
The sudden lifting of restrictions allowed the virus to spread rapidly across the country and unprepared the healthcare system. Residents were left scrambling for fever medicine and antiviral treatment, while hospitals and crematoriums were overwhelmed.
Once ubiquitous Covid testing was largely abandoned, the government stopped reporting most infections, making it difficult to assess the severity and scope of widespread outbreaks.
Amid international criticism of China's limited data release, Chinese health authorities have released more detailed epidemic data in recent weeks that suggest the outbreak has already peaked.
On Wednesday, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said recorded visits to clinics on January 23 fell 96.2% from a month earlier, when the peak of cases was reported.
According to the CDC report, only 15,000 people tested positive for Covid through the PCR test on January 23, compared to more than 6.9 million on December 22.
It's unclear how much testing levels have changed over that time - which can affect such figures - or how many people have been infected overall since China moved away from zero-covid in early December.
On January 21st, Wu Junyou, the CDC's top epidemiologist, estimated that 80% of the country had already been infected.
Officially reported Covid deaths are also falling. Between January 20 and 26, China registered 6,364 Covid-related deaths, according to the CDC, about half of the 12,658 deaths reported a week earlier.
China revised its overly narrow way of counting Covid deaths earlier this month following criticism - including from the World Health Organization - for a lack of transparency. It now includes deaths of Covid patients who had underlying conditions, rather than counting deaths from respiratory failure only.