Chunyun refers to the 40 days over which the Chinese travel to celebrate the Lunar New Year. This year, as China abandons its zero-COVID policy, it expects two billion people to take trips. Will this lead to a further surge in cases?
China appears to be desperate to put the last three years behind it. The zero-COVID policy has been abandoned and now the country is all set for the Lunar New Year. It might be two weeks away but the travel related to the holiday has begun. It’s called “Chunyun”, the 40 days over which hundreds of thousands of Chinese travel to celebrate the spring festival with their families.
Before the pandemic, Chunyun was called the largest annual migration of people. Now that China has opened borders and relaxed quarantine restrictions for travellers from abroad, billions are expected to take trips over the next five weeks.
What is Chunyun?
Chunyun is the travel period around the Lunar New Year. This year, it started on 7 January and will continue until 15 February.
Chunyun means spring transportation but has many implications, a report in China Daily said. “For people that work away from their hometown, it refers to the happiness of reuniting with loved ones and the bitterness of battling for a train ticket; for railway staff it represents 40 days of arduous work; for scalpers it suggests a busy season of business; for the police it implies a war against theft and luggage containing inflammable materials; for the government it is a test of administrative ability,” the report said.
This time of travel starts in early to mid-January, but the date of Chunyun varies according to the Lunar New Year.
While China officially adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1912, the holidays in the country are decided using the lunisolar calendar, which has reportedly been in use since the 21st Century BC. The date of the Lunar New Year depends on the phases of the moon and differs every year. This year, it falls on 22 January.
How many visitors is China expecting this year?
This year will see a big movement of people for the first time since the pandemic. The country’s transport ministry said that it expects more than two billion passengers to take trips over the next 40 days. This will be an increase of 99.5 per cent compared to the same time last year, reaching 70.3 per cent of 2019 trip numbers, according to a report in Reuters.
But what about COVID?
The surge in cases in China is worrying. While there is no reliable data available from the country, there have been multiple reports of overburdened hospitals, overcrowded crematoriums, and a shortage of medicines.
On 8 January, China opened its borders with Hong Kong after three years. There is no requirement for incoming travellers to quarantine.
While most nations have lifted pandemic-induced travel restrictions, what is worrying is that no one had adopted a zero-COVID policy in which lockdowns were implemented until the end of last year. As a result, the Chinese have very little exposure to the virus and poor immunity against it.
Chinese vaccines have also proven to be not as effective. Beijing rejected foreign mRNA shots putting its country at risk. It doesn’t help that vaccine hesitancy has crept in and a large part of the country’s elderly population is yet to get booster doses.
What is China’s plan for the holiday season amid COVID?
China’s Transportation Ministry has called on travellers to reduce trips and gatherings, particularly if they involve elderly people, pregnant women, small children and those with underlying conditions.
People using public transport are also urged to wear masks and pay special attention to their health and personal hygiene, Vice Minister Xu Chengguang told the media. The call stopped short of asking citizens to stay home entirely, as the government had since the pandemic began, although some local governments have urged migrant workers not to return home, according to a report by The Associated Press (AP).
Demand for family visits and tourism has accumulated over the past three years of the pandemic to be met all at once, Xu said. “We encourage people to make travel plans based on the situation of themselves and their family members,” he added.
How will the opening help China?
Investors have been hoping that China’s $17 trillion economy will be reinvigorated by the reopening and the upcoming festive season.
The World Bank and private sector forecasters have cut estimates of China’s economic growth last year to as low as 2.2 per cent due to the infection spike that started in early October and challenged Beijing’s “zero-COVID” goal of isolating every case. The International Monetary Fund expects a recovery of 4.4 per cent this year, but that still would be among the lowest levels of the past three decades, reports AP.
“The sudden, chaotic way in which pandemic policies have been changed means that growth will be hampered in new ways,” Daniel H. Rosen, Charlie Vest and Rogan Quinn of Rhodium Group said in a report. High numbers of infections make it “realistic to expect production to be hampered for a substantial part of 2023”.
How have other nations reacted to the reopening?
Chunyun has already led to worries in neighbouring nations like South Korea and Japan. Last week, South Korea stopped issuing tourist visas for those coming from China. Japan is allowing visitors from China into the country as long as they test negative for COVID-19.
Last week, the Chinese foreign ministry called South Korea’s decision “unacceptable” and “unscientific”.
Now, in a tit-for-tat move, China has stopped issuing short-term visas to travellers from South Korea and Japan.
Thailand will need a full vaccination certificate from Chinese tourists.
The US, the UK, and countries in Europe have also introduced restrictions on tourists from China.
With inputs from agencies
This article originally appeared on https://www.firstpost.com/ and was reproduced here with permission