China’s ‘Great Migration’ begins in the shadow of COVID

China’s ‘Great Migration’ begins in the shadow of COVID

China’s ‘Great Migration’ begins in the shadow of COVID

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More than 2 billion Chinese passengers will take trips in the next 40 days of the Lunar New Year. However, concerns remain about the increase in travelers and the spread of COVID-19 infections.

Selene Brophy

China on Saturday marked the first day of “Chun Yun,” the 40-day Lunar New Year travel period known before the pandemic as the world’s largest annual migration of people, predicting a huge increase in travelers and the spread of COVID-19 prepared infections.

This Lunar New Year holiday, which officially begins on January 21, will be the first since 2020 without domestic travel restrictions.

Last month China saw the dramatic dismantling of its “zero-COVID” regime following historic protests against policies that included frequent testing, restrictions on movement, mass lockdowns and severe damage to the world’s second largest economy.

Investors are hoping the reopening will eventually revitalize a $17 trillion economy suffering from its lowest growth in nearly half a century.

But the abrupt changes have exposed many of China’s 1.4 billion people to the virus for the first time, sparking a wave of infections that has overwhelmed some hospitals, emptying pharmacy shelves of medicines and causing long lines to form outside crematoria.

China’s Ministry of Transport said on Friday it expects more than 2 billion passengers to travel in the next 40 days, up 99.5 percent year-on-year and reaching 70.3 percent of 2019 travel figures.

Reaction to the news online was mixed, with some commenting welcoming the freedom to return to their hometowns and celebrate the Lunar New Year with family for the first time in years.

However, many others said they would not be traveling this year due to concerns of infecting elderly relatives being a common theme.

“I dare not return to my hometown for fear of bringing back the poison,” said one such comment on the Twitter-like Weibo.

There are widespread concerns that the large exodus of workers from the cities to their hometowns will lead to a surge in infections in smaller towns and rural areas, which are less well equipped with intensive care beds and ventilators to deal with them.

Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China economist at Capital Economics, acknowledged that risk in a statement on Friday, but said that “in the big cities that make up much of China’s economy, the worst seems to be over.”

Ernan Cui, an analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics in Beijing, cited several online surveys as suggesting that the current wave of infections may already have peaked in most regions, noting that there is “not much of a difference between urban and rural areas.” give.

border opening

Sunday marks the reopening of China’s border with Hong Kong and the end of China’s quarantine requirement for inbound international travelers. This effectively opened the door for many Chinese to travel abroad for the first time since borders closed nearly three years ago, without fear of being quarantined on their return.

More than a dozen countries are now demanding COVID testing from Chinese travelers as the World Health Organization said China’s official virus data had underreported the true extent of its outbreak.

Chinese officials and state media have defended their handling of the outbreak, downplaying the seriousness of the surge and denouncing overseas travel requirements for its residents.

On Saturday in Hong Kong, people who had made an appointment had to queue for about 90 minutes at a center for PCR tests, which are required for travel to countries like mainland China.

treatment in the foreground

For much of the pandemic, China has poured resources into an extensive PCR testing program to track and trace COVID-19 cases, but the focus is now shifting to vaccines and treatment.

In Shanghai, for example, the municipal government announced on Friday an end to free PCR tests for residents from January 8.

A circular released on Saturday by four ministries signaled a reallocation of financial resources for treatment and outlined a plan for public finances to subsidize 60 percent of treatment costs by March 31.

Meanwhile, sources told Reuters that China is in talks with Pfizer Inc to secure a license that will allow domestic drugmakers to manufacture and distribute a generic version of the US firm’s COVID-19 antiviral drug Paxlovid in China .

Many Chinese have tried to buy the drug abroad and have it shipped to China.

On the vaccines front, Chinese company CanSino Biologics Inc announced that it has started trial production for its COVID-19 mRNA booster vaccine, known as CS-2034.

China has relied on nine domestically developed COVID vaccines approved for use, including inactivated vaccines, but none have been adapted to target the highly transmissible Omicron variant and its offshoots currently in circulation.

The overall vaccination rate in the country is over 90 percent, but the rate for adults who have received booster shots falls to 57.9 percent and to 42.3 percent for people aged 80 and over, according to government data released last month.

China reported three new mainland COVID deaths on Friday, bringing the official virus death toll to 5,267, one of the lowest in the world. International health experts believe Beijing’s narrow definition of COVID deaths does not reflect a true number of deaths, with some predicting more than a million deaths this year.

(Reporting by Casey Hall in Shanghai, Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Kevin Huang, additional reporting by Jindong Zhang; Editing by Tony Munroe)

This article was written by Casey Hall of Reuters and is legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct any licensing questions to [email protected].

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