SHANGHAI, Jan 7 (Reuters) – 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, preparing for a huge increase in travelers and the spread of COVID-19 infections.
This Lunar New Year public holiday, which officially runs from January 1. 21, will be the first since 2020 without domestic travel restrictions.
Over the past month, China has seen the dramatic dismantlement of its “zero-COVID” regime following historic protests against a policy that included frequent testing, restricted movement, massive lockdowns and severe damage to the world’s No. 2 economy.
Investors hope the reopening will eventually reinvigorate a $17 trillion economy suffering 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, unleashing a wave of infections that is overwhelming some hospitals, emptying drugstore shelves of medicines and causing long lines at crematoriums.
The Ministry of Transport said on Friday that it expects more than 2 billion passengers to take trips in the next 40 days, an increase of 99.5% year-on-year and reaching 70.3% of the number of trips in 2019.
There was a mixed reaction online to that news, with some comments praising the freedom to return to their hometowns and celebrate Lunar New Year with family for the first time in years.
Many others, however, said they would not travel this year, with concerns of infecting elderly relatives a common theme.
“I dare not go back to my hometown, for fear of bringing the poison back,” said one such comment on Twitter-like Weibo.
There is widespread concern that the large migration of workers from cities back to their hometowns will lead to an increase in infections in smaller towns and rural areas that are less equipped with ICU beds and ventilators to treat them.
Authorities say they are boosting grassroots medical services, opening more rural fever clinics and instituting a “green channel” for high-risk patients, especially the elderly with underlying health problems, to be flown directly from villages to higher level hospitals.
“China’s rural areas are vast, the population is large, and medical resources per capita are relatively insufficient,” National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said on Saturday.
“It is necessary to provide convenient services, speed up the vaccination of the elderly in rural areas and the construction of grassroots defense lines.”
PEAK OF INFECTION REACHED
Some analysts now say the current wave of infections may already have peaked.
Ernan Cui, an analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics in Beijing, cited several online surveys indicating that rural areas were already more exposed to COVID infections than initially thought, with peak infection already reached in most regions. , noting that “there was not much difference between urban and rural areas.”
sunday china reopen your border with Hong Kong and will also end a requirement for travelers coming from abroad to quarantine. That effectively opens the door for many Chinese to travel abroad for the first time since the borders were slammed nearly three years ago, without fear of having to quarantine upon their return.
Jillian Xin, who has three children and lives in Hong Kong, said she was “incredibly excited” about the opening of the border, especially since it means seeing family in Beijing more easily.
“For us, the opening of the border means that my children can finally meet their grandparents for the first time since the pandemic began,” she said. “Two of our children have never been able to see their grandfather, so we can’t wait for them to meet.”
The rise in cases in China has caused international concern and more than a dozen countries now require COVID tests for travelers from China. He World Health Organization said Wednesday that China’s COVID data underrepresents the number of hospitalizations and deaths from the disease.
Chinese officials and state media have defended its handling of the outbreak, downplaying the severity of the spike and decrying foreign travel requirements for its residents.
On Saturday in Hong Kong, people who had made an appointment had to queue for around 90 minutes at a center for the PCR tests needed to travel to countries including mainland China.
TREATMENT IN FOCUS
For much of the pandemic, China poured resources into a vast PCR testing program to track and trace COVID-19 cases, but now the focus is shifting to vaccines and treatment.
In Shanghai, for example, the city government announced on Friday the end of free PCR tests for residents from January 1. 8.
A circular released on Saturday by four government ministries signaled a reallocation of financial resources to treatment, outlining a plan for public finances to subsidize 60% of treatment costs until March 31.
meanwhile sources told Reuters that China is in talks with Pfizer Inc. (PFE.N) to obtain a license that will allow domestic drugmakers to manufacture and distribute a generic version of the US company’s COVID antiviral drug Paxlovid in China.
Many Chinese have been trying buy the drug abroad and have shipped to china.
On the vaccine front, China’s CanSino Biologics Inc (6185.HK) announced that it has begun trial production for its COVID mRNA booster vaccine, known as CS-2034.
China has relied on nine domestically developed vaccines approved for use, including inactivated vaccines, but none have been adapted to target the highly transmissible Omicron variant and its derivatives currently in circulation.
The overall vaccination rate in the country is above 90%, but the rate for adults receiving booster shots drops to 57.9% and 42.3% for people over 80, according to published government data. last month.
China reported three new COVID deaths on the mainland on Friday, raising its official virus death toll since the pandemic began 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, 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 and Frances Kerry
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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