China’s ‘great migration’ kicks-off under shadow of COVID

SHANGHAI, Jan 7 (Reuters) – China on Saturday celebrated 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, and to increase A large number of people are preparing. Travelers and the spread of COVID-19 infections.

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

Last month, China saw a dramatic dismantling of its “zero-Covid” regime following historic protests against a policy that included repeated testing, restricted movement, widespread quarantines and heavy damage to the world’s No. 2 economy.

Investors hope the reopening will eventually reinvigorate the $17 trillion economy, which is experiencing its slowest growth in nearly half a century.

But the sudden 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, emptied pharmacy shelves of drugs and caused Long queues have formed in crematoriums.

The Department of Transportation announced Friday that it expects more than 2 billion passengers to travel in the next 40 days, a 99.5 percent increase from the previous year and 70.3 percent of the number of trips in 2019.

There were mixed reactions online to the news, with some commenters welcoming the freedom to return to their hometown and celebrate the Lunar New Year with their family for the first time in years.

However, many others said they would not travel this year, as concerns about elderly relatives becoming ill is a common issue.

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One of these comments on Twitter like Weibo said: “I dare not go back to my hometown for fear of Sam being sent back.

There are widespread concerns that the exodus of workers from cities to their hometowns will increase infections in smaller towns and rural areas that are less equipped with ICU beds and ventilators to deal with them.

Officials say they will strengthen grassroots medical services, open more rural fever clinics and create a “green channel” for high-risk patients, especially older people with underlying health conditions, to travel directly from villages to Transfer to higher level hospitals.

China’s rural areas are vast, its population is large, and its per capita medical resources are relatively insufficient, Mei Feng, a spokeswoman for China’s National Health Commission, said on Saturday.

It is necessary to provide appropriate services, accelerate the vaccination of the elderly in the villages, and create public defense lines.

The peak of infection has been reached

Some analysts now say the current wave of infections may have already peaked.

Ernan Cui, an analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics in Beijing, pointed to several online surveys showing that rural areas are now more exposed to Covid infections than first thought, with infections peaking in most areas, noting: “The difference There is not much in between. Urban and rural areas.

China will reopen its border with Hong Kong on Sunday and also end the requirement for overseas travelers to self-quarantine. This effectively opens the door for many Chinese to travel abroad without fear of being quarantined on their return for the first time since the country’s borders were closed nearly three years ago.

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Jillian Shin, who has three children and lives in Hong Kong, said she was “very excited” about the opening of the border, especially since it meant seeing family in Beijing more easily.

“For us, the opening of the border means that my children can finally visit their grandparents for the first time since the pandemic began,” she said. “Two of our children never got to see their grandfather, so we can’t wait to meet them.”

The rise in cases in China has caused international concern, and more than a dozen countries are now requiring Chinese travelers to be tested for the virus. The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that China’s Covid-19 data understated the number of hospitalizations and deaths from the disease.

Chinese officials and state media have defended their handling of the outbreak, downplaying the severity of the surge and condemning foreign travel requirements for 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 needed to travel to countries including mainland China.

Treatment forward

For most of the pandemic, China poured resources into a massive PCR testing program to track and trace COVID-19 cases, but now the focus is on vaccines and treatment.

In Shanghai, for example, the city government on Friday announced the end of free PCR tests for residents as of January 8.

A circular issued on Saturday by four government ministries announced the reallocation of funding to treatment and outlined a plan for public finance to subsidize 60 percent of treatment costs until March 31.

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Meanwhile, China is in talks with Pfizer Inc ( PFE.N ) for a license that would allow domestic drugmakers to manufacture and distribute a generic version of the U.S. firm’s covid-19 antiviral drug Paxlovid in China, sources told Reuters.

Many Chinese have tried to buy this medicine abroad and send it to China.

On the vaccine front, Chinese company CanSino Biologics Inc ( 6185.HK ) said it has started trial production of its COVID mRNA booster vaccine, known as CS-2034.

China relies on nine domestically produced vaccines approved for use, including inactivated vaccines, but none have been adapted to target the highly transmissible strain of Omicron and its offshoots currently in circulation. .

The country’s overall vaccination rate is above 90 percent, but vaccination rates drop to 57.9 percent for adults who have had a booster shot and to 42.3 percent for those 80 and older, according to government data released last month.

China on Friday reported three new deaths from Covid-19 on the mainland, bringing the official death toll from the virus to 5,267 since the pandemic began, one of the lowest in the world.

International health experts believe Beijing’s narrow definition of Covid-19 deaths does not reflect the true numbers, with some predicting more than a million deaths in Beijing this year.

Reporting by Casey Hall in Shanghai, Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Kevin Huang Additional reporting by Jindong Zhang Editing by Tony Munro and Frances Carey

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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