Passengers laden with luggage flocked to train stations and airports in China’s megacities on Monday, heading home for the holidays, in a move health experts fear could intensify the Covid-19 outbreak that has killed thousands.
After three years of strict and suffocating anti-virus restrictions, China abruptly abandoned its zero-covid policy in early December, allowing the virus to run free among its population of 1.4 billion.
Officials said Saturday that 60,000 people infected with Covid died in hospitals between December 8 and January 12, a huge increase from earlier figures criticized by the World Health Organization as not reflecting the scale and severity of the outbreak.
Even those numbers could prevent many deaths at home, especially in rural areas with weak medical systems, a health expert said. Many experts predict that more than 1 million people will die from the disease in China this year.
Ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, also known as the Spring Festival, which officially begins on January 21, state media have been filled with stories of rural hospitals and clinics improving their supply of drugs and equipment.
“The peak of the Covid infection in our village has passed, but the Spring Festival is approaching, and the villagers on the left, especially the elderly, are at risk of secondary infection,” a doctor in Shanxi province said in an article in the regional news. Red Star News Publication.
“If there’s more antiviral and other drugs, I’d be more optimistic.”
Along with flu drugs and oxygen supplies, China’s National Health Commission said it will equip every village clinic with pulse oximeters, fingertip devices commonly used during epidemics, to quickly check oxygen levels.
Beijing’s main railway station has been packed with passengers leaving the capital in recent days, according to reports.
In China’s most populous city, Shanghai, temporary night trains have been added to meet the demand of passengers bound for eastern Anhui province, China’s official state news agency Xinhua reported.
Meanwhile, daily attendance at Macau’s casino hub exceeded 55,000, the highest daily attendance since the pandemic began.
In Hong Kong, the government said it would increase the number of people who can pass through designated land-border checkpoints from 50,000 to 65,000 a day between January 18 and January 21.
More than 2 billion trips are expected during the holiday, according to China’s Ministry of Transport.
A resurgence of travel in China has raised expectations of a rebound in the world’s second-largest economy, which has been suffering from its slowest growth rates in nearly half a century.
Those hopes helped lift Asian stock markets on Monday, adding to last week’s 4.2% gains.
China’s blue-chip index rose 0.6% on Monday, while global oil prices were also supported by expectations of a recovery in demand from the world’s top importer.
Chinese data on economic growth, retail sales and industrial production due out this week will be poor, but analysts say markets will look past how China’s reopening will boost global growth.