Coronavirus: China steps up government planning to limit Lunar New Year travel

Rachel Zhang
·2-min read

China has set up a high-level government working group to oversee emergency planning as it tries to discourage large crowds from travelling during the Spring Festival, amid its highest daily Covid-19 case numbers since July.

Authorities have stressed the importance of passenger flow analysis during the festival and encouraged schools and companies to stagger holidays.

The ministry of transport said it had set up a pandemic prevention working group under the State Council, China’s cabinet, and held its first meeting on Sunday.

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Mass migration across China normally occurs during Lunar New Year, as people travel to join family gatherings. The holiday this year falls on February 12, and about 407 million train journeys are expected to be taken between January 28 and March 8, according to China’s railway authority.

The working group consists of 15 member units, including the ministry of public security, the national railway administration and the Civil Aviation Administration of China. Li Xiaopeng, the transport minister, is to lead it.

Li said it was necessary to stagger journeys and monitor passenger flow during the festivities. The working group should strictly regulate imports of cold chain logistics and tighten up pandemic controls covering people returning from overseas, he said.

He also called for a reduction in unnecessary travel and gatherings, in an effort to limit the spread of infections.

China on Sunday recorded its biggest daily increase in Covid-19 cases since July, the country’s national health authority said on Monday, as new infections in the northern province of Hebei continued to rise. Hebei accounted for 82 of the 103 new infections reported nationwide on Sunday.

The wave of new cases is raising serious concern among Chinese officials as the customary Spring Festival travel rush draws closer. The authorities have encouraged people not to return to their hometowns to gather with relatives, but to stay where they now live and work, to reduce the movement of people.

A number of schools have shifted their winter holiday to an earlier date and students have been divided into batches to return to school at different times. In some areas, companies have staggered holidays for staff and offered bonuses and subsidies to encourage them to stay in their local region instead of travelling during the festival.

For those returning to China from overseas, or travelling domestically from areas labelled medium to high risk, a negative swab test result must be shown and at least 14 days’ isolation are required on arrival.

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