China marked Saturday the beginning of “chun Yun”, the 40-day period for Lunar New Year travel in China. This was pre-pandemic the largest annual migration of people worldwide.
This Lunar New Year public holiday will officially start on Jan. 21 and is the first without restrictions for domestic travel since 2020.
China’s “zero COVID” regime was ripped apart by protestors in China over the past month. This followed historic protests against an outdated policy of frequent testing, restricted movement and severe damage to the No.2 economy.
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Investors hope that the reopening of a $17 trillion economy, which has seen its lowest growth rate in almost half a century, will ultimately bring back confidence.
However, many of China’s 1.4billion population have been exposed to the virus. This has triggered a wave infection that has overwhelmed some hospitals and emptying pharmacie shelves. Long lines are also forming at crematoriums.
Friday’s announcement by the Ministry of Transport indicated that more than 2 Billion passengers will travel in the next 40 days. This is an increase of 99.5% year on year and 70.3% of all trips in 2019.
That news received mixed reactions online. Some comments praised the freedom to go home and celebrate the Lunar New Year together for the first time since years.
Others, however, stated that they wouldn’t travel this year due to concern about infecting their elderly relatives.
One such comment was made on Weibo, which is Twitter-like.
There is widespread concern that the large migration of city workers to their hometowns could lead to an increase in infections in rural areas and smaller towns that lack ICU beds or ventilators.
Authorities claim they are increasing grassroots medical services, opening more rural clinics for fever, and creating a “green channel”, which allows high-risk patients, particularly elderly people with underlying conditions, to be transferred directly from villages to higher-level hospitals.
Mi Feng, spokesperson for the National Health Commission, stated that China’s rural areas were large and have large populations. He also said that the per capita medical resources in China are not sufficient.
“It is necessary to provide convenient services and accelerate vaccination for elderly people in rural areas. It’s also important to build grassroots lines of defense.”
REACH INFECTION PEAK
Analysts believe that the current wave is over.
Gavekal Dragonomics analyst Ernan Cui in Beijing cited online surveys that indicated rural areas are more susceptible to COVID infections. There was an infection peak in many regions. He also noted that there was not much difference between rural and urban areas.
China will open its Hong Kong border on Sunday. It will also eliminate the requirement that travellers from overseas have to be quarantined. Many Chinese will be able to travel to foreign countries for the first time in nearly three years since their borders were closed. They won’t have to worry about being quarantined upon their return.
Jillian Xin, a mother of three, lives in Hong Kong and expressed excitement about the opening of the border, particularly as she can see her family in Beijing.
She said, “The border opening means that my children can finally meet their grandparents for first time since the pandemic started.” “Two generations of our children have never seen their grandpa. We cannot wait to meet them.”
International concern has been raised by China’s sudden increase in cases. More than a dozen countries now require COVID testing from Chinese tourists. On Wednesday, the World Health Organisation stated that China’s COVID data does not accurately reflect the number of deaths and hospitalisations from the disease.
Chinese officials and the state media have defended their handling of the outbreak by playing down the scale of the surge, and denouncing foreign travel requirements of its residents.
People who made appointments in Hong Kong had to wait for around 90 minutes at a center for PCR tests required for travel to China.
TREATMENT TO THE FORE
China spent a lot of resources on a large PCR testing program in order to track and trace COVID-19 victims. But now, the focus shifts to vaccines and treatment.
For example, Shanghai’s city government announced Friday that residents will no longer be eligible for free PCR tests starting Jan. 8.
Four government ministries published a circular Saturday that indicated a reallocation in financial resources for treatment. It outlined a plan for public finance to subsidise 60% of treatment expenses until March 31.
Sources have told Reuters China is in discussions with Pfizer Inc to obtain a license that will allow Chinese drugmakers to produce and distribute a generic version the antiviral drug COVID from the U.S.
Many Chinese are trying to purchase the drug from abroad and have it delivered to China.
China’s CanSino Biologics Inc (6185.HK) announced that it has started production of its COVID mRNA booster vaccination, 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 offshoots currently in circulation.
According to data from the government, the overall vaccination rate is over 90%. However, the rate of booster shots for adults drops to 57.9% and 42.3% respectively for those aged 80 and older.
China reported three COVID deaths on Friday in China, making it the country’s fifth-lowest virus death toll since the pandemic started.
Experts in international health believe Beijing’s narrow definition for COVID deaths doesn’t reflect the true number. Some predict more than one million deaths this year.