- Two billion trips are expected during the Lunar New Year
- The virus is spreading from the cities to the vulnerable villages
- The WHO says China’s response was prompted by a lack of data
- China’s Great Rediscovery, Overshadowed by Japan, Korea Spits
BEIJING, Jan 12 (Reuters) – People in China worried on Thursday about the spread of COVID-19 among elderly relatives as they planned to return to their hometowns for holidays, which the World Health Organization warned could fuel a raging epidemic. .
The Lunar New Year holiday, which officially begins on January 21, comes after China last month abandoned a strict anti-virus regime in a mass lockdown that sparked widespread frustration and escalated into historic protests.
This sharp turn has unleashed COVID among a population of 1.4 billion who have no natural immunity as they have been protected from the virus since its first outbreak in late 2019, and include many elderly people who are not fully vaccinated.
The epidemic, which is spreading from China’s megacities to rural areas with fewer medical resources, is overwhelming some hospitals and crematoriums.
With scant official data from China, the WHO on Wednesday said it would be a challenge to manage the virus during the holiday period, considered the world’s biggest annual migration of people.
Other warnings from leading Chinese health experts for people to avoid elderly relatives during the holidays appeared on Thursday in the most-read post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.
“This is a very relevant suggestion, go back to your hometown … or put the health of the elderly first,” wrote one user. Another user said they dare not visit their grandmother and will leave gifts for her on the doorstep.
“It’s almost New Years and I’m afraid she’s going to be lonely,” the user wrote.
More than two billion trips are expected across China during the broader Lunar New Year period, which began on January 7 and lasts for 40 days, according to the transport ministry. This is double last year’s trips and 70% of those seen in 2019 before the outbreak of the pandemic in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
“I will stay at home and avoid going to very crowded places,” said Chen, a 27-year-old documentary filmmaker in Beijing who plans to visit her hometown in the eastern province of Zhejiang.
Chen said he would disinfect his hands before meeting elderly relatives, such as his grandmother, who managed to avoid infection.
THE LACK OF DATA IS CRITICIZED
The WHO and foreign governments have criticized China for not being forthcoming about the scale and severity of the outbreak, prompting several countries to impose restrictions on Chinese travelers.
China has reported five or fewer deaths a day for the past month, figures that do not match the long queues seen at funeral homes. The country did not report data on COVID deaths on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Liang Wannian, head of the national health authority’s COVID expert group, told reporters that deaths can only be accurately counted after the pandemic is over.
Although international health experts predicted at least one million COVID-related deaths this year, China has reported just over 5,000 since the pandemic began, a fraction of what other countries have reported after lifting restrictions.
Looking beyond the death toll, investors are betting that China’s reopening will breathe new life into a $17 trillion economy that is suffering its slowest growth in nearly half a century.
China’s growth is likely to recover to 4.9% in 2023. according to a Reuters poll of economists released on Thursday. GDP is likely to grow by just 2.8% in 2022 as lockdowns weigh on activity and confidence, the survey said, down sharply from 8.4% growth in 2021.
CHALLENGES IN TRAVELING
After three years of isolation from the outside world, China on Sunday lifted quarantine mandates for inbound visitors in a move that is expected to eventually boost outbound travel as well.
But concerns about the outbreak in China have prompted more than a dozen countries to request negative COVID test results from people arriving from China.
Among them, South Korea and Japan have also restricted flights and require tests on arrival, with passengers who test positive sent into quarantine.
In the deepening dispute between the regional rivals, China has in turn stopped issuing short-term visas and halted transit visa exemptions for South Korean and Japanese citizens.
Despite Beijing’s lifting of travel restrictions, outbound bookings from China were just 15% of pre-pandemic levels in the week after the country announced it would reopen its borders, travel data firm ForwardKeys said on Thursday.
Low airline capacity, high airfares, new pre-flight COVID-19 testing requirements from many countries and a backlog of passport and visa applications pose challenges as the industry looks to recover, ForwardKeys Insights vice president Olivier said in a statement Ponti.
Hong Kong Airlines on Thursday said it does not expect to return to capacity until mid-2024.
Reporting by Bernard Orr, Liz Lee, Eduardo Baptista and Jing Wang in Beijing; Written by John Geddy; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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