Coronavirus: in China, packed cinemas and deserted trains mark ‘surreal’ Lunar New Year

Laura Zhou
·3-min read

Moviegoers are out in force but travellers have stayed put this Lunar New Year as China tries to keep a grip on coronavirus transmissions.

In a shot in the arm for the world’s biggest movie market, a mystery-comedy adventure set in Tokyo broke China’s box office record by earning 2.233 billion yuan (US$345 million) between its release on Friday and Sunday morning, the shortest time taken for a movie to surpass the 2 billion yuan mark.

Detective Chinatown 3 , the latest instalment in the popular franchise, took 1.05 billion yuan on Friday, according to the China Film Administration.

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The movie features Chinese actors Wang Baoqiang, Liu Haoran, Thai martial arts legend Tony Jaa and Japanese pop star Satoshi Tsumabuki.

According to box office tracking service Maoyan Entertainment, more than 4 billion yuan in tickets, including pre-sales, had been sold by noon Sunday, more than two-thirds of the 5.85 billion yuan in takings recorded for the seven-day holiday in 2019. That is despite cinemas being restricted to 75 per cent capacity.

“I got up at seven in the morning but found tickets for 8am were sold out,” one Weibo user wrote.

“I bought four tickets for the first day of the Lunar New Year,” another Weibo user wrote. “I think I will live in the cinema today.”

The crowded cinemas are in stark contrast to the empty railway stations and train cars in China.

Lunar New Year is usually the peak travel season, with hundreds of millions of people rushing back to their hometowns for the most important holiday of the year.

But this year the National Health Commission tried to discourage the journeys to help keep the coronavirus at bay. People returning to rural areas for the break now have to provide a negative Covid-19 test taken within the previous seven days and spend 14 days at home under observation upon arrival.

Beijing has some of the toughest measures, with people who leave the capital required to take a Covid-19 test within seven days of starting their return journey and another test after 14 days of arrival, on top of 14 days of home observation.

Coronavirus: in Wuhan, a Lunar New Year rush to pay tribute to Covid-19’s victims

The restrictions seem to have deterred the public, with passengers posting photos of deserted train stations online.

“This is the emptiest railway station I’ve ever seen,” one Weibo user wrote on Saturday afternoon, posting a photo of rows of empty chairs in the waiting room of Zhanjiang West High-speed Railway Station in Guangdong.

“A moment too surreal to [believe] – to be in an empty railway station during Lunar New Year,” another Weibo user wrote after buying a ticket at Beijing Chaoyang Railway Station.

According to the State Council, 1.11 million passenger trips were made on Friday, roughly a quarter of the journeys made at the same time during the 2019 festive season. Fewer people were also taking to the nation’s roads and skies, with car trips down by 78.6 per cent and flights 90 per cent.

On Sunday morning, the NHC said seven new infections, all imported cases, were reported on Saturday.

Last year’s Lunar New Year holiday was marred by lockdowns after a Chinese leading epidemiologist acknowledged on state TV that the deadly pneumonia-like illness that broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan could be transferred from person to person.

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