At least 17 people have died in a traffic accident in China as the country saw a surge in road activity due to the annual Lunar New Year holiday.
The accident took place on the outskirts of Nanchang county in Jiangxi province, leaving another 22 people injured.
"The accident caused 17 deaths, 22 people were injured, the injured have been sent to the hospital," reported local state-run broadcaster CCTV, according to the AFP news agency.
The authorities said they were probing the number of vehicles involved in the incident, as well as the circumstances leading to it.
But according to a local resident, the victims were mourners from Taoling village and had set up a funeral tent on the side of the road. They were hit by a truck that was passing by as they prepared to travel to the local crematorium, reported news outlet Jimu News, which identified the local resident by only her surname, Deng.
Traffic police issued an advisory to drivers soon after the incident, saying that the area has “poor” visibility and was experiencing “foggy weather” which can cause “traffic accidents”.
Enforcement efforts on the condition of vehicles, drivers and passenger numbers are redoubled around the time of the holiday, China’s most important for family gatherings when tens of millions of migrant workers return to their hometowns.
With the end of most Covid-19 restrictions, the number of such trips is expected to double this year to more than two billion on and around the weeklong festival season that starts on 22 January.
China also eased its international border restriction on Sunday, allowing in travellers from Hong Kong and abroad to enter without quarantine.
Those crossing between Hong Kong and mainland China are still required to show a negative Covid-19 test taken within the last 48 hours – a measure China has protested when imposed by other countries.
Hong Kong has been hit significantly harder by the virus than the mainland up until the last few weeks, and its land and sea border checkpoints with the mainland have been largely closed for almost three years.
Despite the risk of new infections, the reopening that will allow tens of thousands of people who have made prior online bookings to cross each day is expected to provide a much-needed boost to Hong Kong’s tourism and retail sectors.
Communist Party newspaper the Global Times quoted Tan Luming, a port official in Shenzhen on the border with Hong Kong, saying about 200 passengers were expected to take the ferry to Hong Kong, while another 700 were due to travel in the other direction, on the first day of reopening.
Mr Tan said a steady increase in passenger numbers is expected over coming days.
Hong Kong media reports said around 300,000 travel bookings from the city to mainland China have already been made.