China’s Lunar New Year trip offers spark of economic recovery from COVID crisis

  • Curbs condemned world no. 2 The economy is weakest in 50 years
  • 390,000 train passengers left Shanghai on holiday on Tuesday
  • More than 80% of domestic flights were seen at pre-Covid levels
  • fear of covid spread; WHO insists on complete mortality data

SHANGHAI, Jan 17 (Reuters) – Urban workers thronged train stations in China’s major cities on Tuesday as the country’s mass migration for the Lunar New Year holiday kicked into high gear, an early sign of an economic recovery as authorities confirmed a historic downturn due to COVID-19. Obstacles.

The world’s second-largest economy slowed sharply in the fourth quarter, data showed on Tuesday, dragging 2022 growth to its worst performance in nearly half a century after three years of Covid restrictions and lockdowns.

As mass travel for the Lunar New Year is possible for the first time in nearly three years after some of the world’s tightest Covid restrictions were eased, China’s economy has benefited as hundreds of thousands of people spend more a day as they return to the mainland. .

While many analysts say the return to economic normalcy will be gradual as the impact of Covid weakens, some see an early consumption boost to welcome the Lunar New Year.

“The peak of infections in major cities in January has passed, with the Spring Festival coming, tourism is back and signs of consumption recovery are clear,” said Nie Wen, a Shanghai-based economist at investment firm Hwabao Foundation.

But even as workers leave, health experts fear its COVID outbreak will widen and deepen, leaving older people in rural villages particularly vulnerable.

Although Chinese officials on Saturday confirmed a huge increase in deaths — nearly 60,000 people died in hospitals between December 8 and January 12 after contracting Covid — World Health Organization (WHO) officials are trying to quantify the death toll.

The WHO earlier welcomed Saturday’s announcement after warning last week that China was underreporting deaths from the virus.

In particular, the UN The agency wants information on so-called excess mortality — the number of all deaths outside the norm during a crisis, the WHO said in a statement to Reuters.

“This is especially important in times of outbreaks when the health system is tightly controlled,” the report said on Monday.

The WHO added that it will continue to work with China to provide advice and support, but has yet to schedule another formal meeting with Chinese officials after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke with Ma Xiao, director of China’s National Health Commission, over the weekend.

Risk, but hope

The Ministry of Transport estimates that a total of 2.1 billion passengers will travel across the country from January 7 to February 15, as many Chinese city dwellers take the first opportunity to take Lunar New Year trips with family in their home regions. Since the pandemic began.

Chinese officials rejected Beijing’s “zero Covid” policy – previously championed by ruling Communist Party leader Xi Jinping – in early December, allowing the virus to run unchecked among its 1.4 billion people.

State media reported that 390,000 passengers were expected to leave Shanghai train stations on Tuesday alone for the so-called Spring Festival holiday – considered the world’s largest annual mass migration before COVID.

As commuters passed through stations in Shanghai, China’s largest city, some expressed hope despite the risks.

“I’m not worried about the virus. Because we’re young, our immunity is fine,” 37-year-old migrant worker Cho Ning told Reuters outside a Shanghai train station. Sichuan is a northeastern province.

“In my hometown, there are many people who have tested positive, but I’m not worried about that.”

On the train leaving Shanghai, fellow migrant worker Feng Hongwei, 21, said he was “very happy and excited” as he began the trek to Puyang, Henan. “I haven’t seen my parents in two years.”

The holiday season has sparked a resurgence in domestic air travel, with more than 70,000 flights across China from Jan. 7-13, Shanghai Securities News reported on Monday. This equates to more than 80% of levels seen before the pandemic.

International flight connections are also recovering. Emirates Airlines on Monday became the latest carrier to announce the resumption of services from its Dubai hub to Shanghai this week, and will operate daily flights to Shanghai and Beijing from March.

Report from Shanghai and Beijing newsrooms; Written by Greg Dorod; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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