Jan. 7, 2023 -- With COVID-19 cases already increasing in China, millions of people are traveling home to visit relatives during the Lunar New Year, which began Saturday.
The Chinese Ministry of Transport on Friday predicted that more than 2 billion passengers will hit the road during the 40-day holiday period, an increase of 99.5% over last year and reaching 70.3% of the trip numbers from 2019, before the pandemic, Reuters reported.
People stayed home the last three years because of the government’s “zero COVID” policy, which included many travel restrictions. That policy hurt the economy and created widespread public discontent. The government loosened those restrictions late last year, which has already resulted in a surge of cases and strained the health care system.
Another increase in cases caused by travel could further strain the health care system, especially in rural areas with few hospitals and health care centers, officials have predicted
“What we are most worried about is that after three years, everyone … can finally go home for the new year to visit relatives,” said Jiao Yahui, an official with China’s National Health Commission, according to The New York Times. “How to deal with the peak of infection in vast rural areas has become a huge challenge.”
The Chinese government is opening more rural clinics and prioritizing high-risk patients, especially elderly people with underlying conditions, so that they can be transferred quickly from villages to hospitals, Reuters reported.
After years of telling people to stay put, China is opening up travel opportunities.
On Sunday, China reopened its border with its special administrative region Hong Kong, which will result in a flood of travelers, Reuters said. In late December, China announced it was ending quarantine requirements for people traveling into China from other nations.
The World Health Organization says China is under-representing the severity of the current outbreak, Reuters reported. China is reporting five or fewer COVID deaths daily since the “zero COVID” policy was dropped, but many funeral homes and hospitals say they’re swamped, Reuters said. International health experts predict at least 1 million COVID-related deaths in China this year.