China Maintains Holiday Activity Despite COVID Outbreak

China plays down COVID outbreak with holiday rush at full tilt

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said COVID-19 was at a “relatively low” level in China, while health officials said the number of patients in hospital and with critical conditions was declining. However, there are widespread doubts about the official account of the outbreak.

A policy U-turn, which followed historic protests against the government’s tough anti-virus curbs, unleashed COVID on a population of 1.4 billion that had been largely shielded from the disease since it emerged in the city of Woham in late 2019.

On Friday, millions of people crowded into trains and buses for one of the busiest days of travel in years, feeding fears of new surges in the outbreak. More than 2 billion trips are expected to take place across China between Jan. 7 and Feb. 15.

Excited passengers laden with luggage and boxes of gifts boarded trains on Friday, heading for long-awaited family reunions. However, for others, the holiday is a reminder of lost loved ones.

China’s internet regulator said this week it would censor any “fake information” about the spread of the virus that could cause “gloomy” sentiment during Lunar New Year festivities. President Xi Jinping said he was concerned about an influx of travellers to rural areas with weak medical systems.

The World Health Organization’s immunisation director praised China on Friday for making quick progress on vaccinating older people with COVID shots and boosters since lifting anti-virus controls last month.

A WHO report said China reported a large jump in COVID hospitalisations in the week through Jan. 15, to the highest since the pandemic began. But health officials said the number of COVID patients reporting to hospital had peaked with more than 40% fewer people being treated with critical conditions on Jan. 17 compared with a peak on Jan. 5.

Investors are hopeful that reopening will help revive China’s economy, placing bets that have lifted Chinese stocks and its yuan currency to multi-month highs. Malls from Macau to Bangkok are aiming to lure Chinese tourists in with red lantern displays and special dances to mark the Year of the Rabbit.