People across China have gathered en masse to usher in the Lunar New Year after the Chinese government recently lifted its strict COVID-19 regulations for travel and gathering in China late last year.
Since early Sunday morning, there have been large family gatherings and crowded visits to temples all across the country to celebrate the New Year, marking the biggest festive celebration in the country since the COVID-19 pandemic began three years ago.
The Lunar New Year is the most important annual holiday in China.
Each year is named after one of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac in a repeating cycle, with this year being the Year of the Rabbit.
For the past three years, celebrations were put on hold due to the pandemic.
With the easing of most COVID-19 restrictions, many people can finally make their first trip back to their hometowns to reunite with their families without worrying about quarantine, potential lockdowns, and travel suspension.
Larger public celebrations also returned for what is known as the Spring Festival in China, with the capital city of Beijing hosting thousands of cultural events on a larger scale than a year ago.
Concerns are, however, on the rise that the mass movement of people during the Lunar New Year holiday period, sometimes referred to as ‘the world’s largest human migration,’ could cause the virus to spread to certain areas such as the countryside and cause a second wave of infections.
Currently, 8 in 10 people in China have been infected with Covid-19, according to Wu Zunyou, a prominent government scientist.
Wu, the chief epidemiologist of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Saturday — the eve of the Lunar New Year — that the present “wave of the epidemic has already infected about 80% of the people” in the country of 1.4 billion people.
Wu claims that although the mass movement of travelers may cause the virus to spread to certain areas, a scenario where a second wave arises is unlikely as so many people in the country have already been infected.
“In the next two to three months, the possibility of a large-scale Covid-19 rebound or a second wave of infections across the country is minimal,” Wu said.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 12,660 COVID-19-related deaths between the 13th and 19th of January 2023, including 680 cases of respiratory failure caused by the virus and 11,980 fatalities from other ailments combined with COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported on Sunday that more than 26 million passenger trips were taken on the eve of the Lunar New Year.
China’s Ministry of Transport estimates over 2 billion passenger trips will take place during the 40-day Lunar New Year season as people across the country return to their hometowns for family reunions for the first time without domestic travel restrictions since the start of the pandemic over three years ago.
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