Holiday trips within China surge after Covid curbs lifted

Travellers wait for trains at Hangzhou East railway station during the Spring Festival travel rush ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, Jan. 20, 2023. [VOA]

Lunar New Year holiday trips inside China surged 74% from last year after authorities scrapped Covid-19 travel curbs, state media reported Saturday, though the number of journeys was still only half of pre-pandemic levels.

According to official data, the number of Covid deaths showed a weekly decline, however.

Between January 20-26, a week that overlapped with six days of the holiday period, China registered 6,364 Covid-linked deaths, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday, compared to 12,658 a week earlier.

Lunar New Year is the most important holiday of the year in China, when huge numbers of people working in prosperous coastal cities head to their hometowns and villages for family reunions.

This year's celebration is the first in three years without any form of lockdown curbs. China abandoned its strict "zero Covid" policy in early December after protests against the restrictions, allowing people to travel and the virus to spread rapidly throughout the country.

Responding to criticism about its coronavirus data, China expanded its definition for the Covid death toll to include fatalities in hospitals caused by respiratory failure due to Covid and those whose died from a combination of Covid and other disease. Critics say this is still an underestimate as people who died at home are still excluded from the count.

An estimated 226 million domestic trips were made including flights during the holiday week, state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing government figures.

People sit in a restaurant during Spring Festival and Lunar New Year celebrations in Beijing, China, Jan. 23, 2023. Lunar New Year holiday trips inside China surged 74% from last year after authorities scrapped COVID-19 travel curbs, state media reported Jan. 28, 2023.

This compares to around 130 million domestic trips during the holiday week last year, according to the transport ministry, but is still far below pre-pandemic levels: In the last Lunar New Year holiday before the novel coronavirus emerged in late 2019, some 420 million trips were made.

As for travel abroad, inbound and outbound cross-border trips jumped 120.5% from last year to 2.88 million, the National Immigration Administration said Saturday.

During the Lunar New Year holiday in 2019, 12.53 million cross-border trips were made, the Xinhua news agency reported.