What Chinese Lunar New Year Hikes Mean for Covid Surge: QuickTake

What Chinese Lunar New Year Hikes Mean for Covid Surge: QuickTake

What Chinese Lunar New Year Hikes Mean for Covid Surge: QuickTake

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For the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic, people in China can travel freely for Lunar New Year, the country’s most important holiday. The annual family reunion ritual usually involves billions of trips, but these have been significantly reduced in the last three years as the government urged people to “celebrate where you are” to avoid the spread of Covid-19. The abrupt lifting of the restrictive Covid Zero policy in the country at the end of 2022 has already led to a huge wave of new infections. The question is what impact mass migration will have on the outbreak, as well as on an already fragile economy.

1. What is the Lunar New Year?

Also known as the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, it marks the beginning of the Chinese lunar calendar and is seen as a celebration of values ​​such as unity and family ties. By law, people in China have seven days off from New Year’s Eve, which falls on January 21 this year. Traditionally, the celebration lasts 16 days, from the New Year’s Eve family feast to the Lantern Festival on the 15th. Many labor migrants take advantage of what is often their only chance a year to return home. back to small towns and villages. Before the pandemic, the annual event was considered the largest human migration in the world.

2. What will travel look like this year?

No bans are expected as the government has lifted travel restrictions: there is no longer a requirement to be tested on board trains, planes, ferries or shuttle buses for domestic travel; end of quarantine for travelers arriving from Sunday, January 8. Officials estimate that the number of trips during the holiday season will reach 2.1 billion – double the number last year, but still only 70% of the level recorded in 2019. days around the Lunar New Year, this year it starts on January 7.) Previously, when travel was officially discouraged, many people stayed put, creating a huge pent-up demand to return home. Not only are people expected to flood inland from Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen this year, but the Chinese diaspora is also pouring in from Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as distant cities like Los Angeles and London. Hong Kong is bracing itself for a deluge this month. It set a daily quota of 60,000 people for a trip to the mainland, which was quickly filled up the weekend before the holidays. (For comparison, the AAA estimated that 113 million people in the US traveled from December 23 to January 2, approaching pre-pandemic numbers.)

3. How will this affect the spread of Covid in China?

Xu Chengguang, Vice Minister of Transport, put it simply: it will be a New Year’s journey full of uncertainty, complexity and challenges. China’s sudden lifting of strict Covid controls in December fueled a spike in infections in major cities, prompting people to stay home when they became ill or feared to be infected. According to Bloomberg News, as many as 248 million people, or nearly 18% of the population, likely contracted the virus in the first 20 days of December. While the outbreak has likely peaked in places like Beijing, the virus continues to spread rapidly across the country. Crazy travel will give the highly contagious omicron variant another boost in a vast country of 1.4 billion. China’s rural areas brace for a tsunami of infection with hospitals and clinics short of staff and resources. Many are already struggling with a surge in febrile patients and cases of pneumonia among the elderly.

4. What does the government do?

Transport authorities are adding more flights and transportation options to carry not only people but also medical supplies, grain and fuel to meet the expected higher demand. The country’s extensive rail network has increased passenger numbers by 11% from 2019 levels. The government has also appealed to migrant workers and students to delay their return home if they are infected. He also asked villagers and farmers to limit gatherings and wear masks when visiting elderly relatives and to follow hygiene rules. Neighbors should also look after each other during this difficult time, sharing medicines and antiseptics, helping with shopping and sending the sick to hospitals. China’s National Health Commission also asked larger urban hospitals to help rural clinics and called for strengthening mechanisms for transferring severely ill patients from rural areas to intensive care in higher-level medical facilities. He also pledged to redirect more medical supplies to rural areas and urged people to get vaccinated.

5. What does this mean for tourism?

Domestic leisure travel is first in line for a boost as people recovering from a Covid bout want to ski in the snowy mountains of northern China and bask in the sun in the south in Hainan, known as Chinese Hawaii, and shop at the stores duty free on the island. Lunar New Year has traditionally been the peak of the overseas travel season, but the influx of Chinese tourists – previously spending $280 billion in hotspots from Paris to Tokyo – will take months, if not years, to return to pre-pandemic levels. Following a spike in infections, many countries have implemented requirements to test travelers from China, with airlines reluctant to make immediate major changes to their flight schedules, meaning capacity remains limited and prices high.

6. And the broadly understood economy?

Consumption was a major drag on the economy last year as shops and restaurants closed multiple times and travel was restricted due to Covid outbreaks and lockdowns. Chinese households are also cutting back to save more in the face of soaring unemployment and bleak income prospects. Now that the country has abruptly ditched its Covid-Zero strategy and started reopening its borders, economists generally expect consumption to rebound robustly later this year after the peak of the infection, helped by a low comparative base, but also a release of pent-up demand and economic activity. raises. Chinese leaders have made boosting domestic demand a top priority this year as geopolitical tensions persist and fears that the global economy could enter recession grow. Some government-linked analysts have called on authorities to provide cash benefits to consumers, as the US and other countries have done, to spur spending, while others say more favorable policies should be given to small businesses and the real estate sector to preserve jobs.

7. What is this year’s animal sign?

It’s the year of the rabbit. While usually considered a tame and gentle animal, this year’s commemorative stamp issued by China Post has sparked controversy, with some saying the rabbit looks mad or worse.

More stories like this can be found at bloomberg.com

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