Chinese Health Official Raises Covid Alarm Ahead Of Lunar New Year Holiday


By Elaine Yu

A top Chinese public-health official warned of widespread Covid-19 outbreaks across the country’s more vulnerable rural areas as millions of citizens prepare to travel home for the coming Lunar New Year holiday.

Infections have exploded across China after authorities in November and December abruptly scrapped almost all of the country’s stringent pandemic controls amid a sharp economic downturn and rare nationwide protests against the zero-Covid policy that has governed daily life for the past three years.

Beijing’s sudden pivot from its strict pandemic measures came just weeks ahead of the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday, which begins this year on Jan. 21. Tens of millions of Chinese people typically travel across the country to celebrate the holiday with their families, and for many people, it’s the one time of year that they travel.

The annual ritual has largely been put on hold for the past three years, as pandemic measures tended to tighten during the cold-winter months and authorities urged the public to celebrate the holiday where they were.

That has raised expectations for Lunar New Year travel this year—the first without stringent Covid restrictions—and for what some economists have dubbed “revenge spending” and “revenge travel,” as people make up for lost opportunities.

“What we’re most worried about is that it’s been three years and people haven’t gone home to spend the New Year,” Jiao Yahui, head of the National Health Commission’s medical administration bureau, told a program on state broadcaster China Central Television. “There could be a retaliatory rush of people from the cities to the countryside,” she said.

In recent weeks, China’s biggest cities have seen hospital emergency rooms and crematoria fill up as the country’s elderly population, whose vaccination rates lag those of their younger counterparts, contracts Covid in large numbers. But experts say the problem is likely to be far more acute in China’s vast countryside, where doctors and nurses are less prepared for Covid and medical facilities are poorer.

Ms. Jiao said health authorities are working to coordinate transportation and medical resources to help severely ill patients in less-equipped areas receive treatment.

In a Dec. 29 article published in Frontiers of Medicine, a medical journal sponsored by China’s Ministry of Education, a team of researchers warned that some provinces in central and western China and in rural areas would be hit by a wave of infections in mid- to late-January. The duration and magnitude of the coming outbreak “could be dramatically enhanced by the extensive travels” during the Lunar New Year, the researchers wrote.

Adding to the concerns, authorities are planning to remove quarantine and other requirements for international travel next week, effectively reopening the country’s borders even as infections explode within the country. That has prompted several countries, including the U.S., Japan and France, to impose travel requirements on passenger arrivals from China. Beijing has expressed its displeasure at such measures, and urged countries to act in what it called “a science-based and proportionate manner.”

Meanwhile, Hong Kong officials are preparing to reopen its borders with the mainland in phases as early as Jan. 8, the date of China’s planned removal of international travel restrictions. The city’s government on Monday urged residents not to stockpile paracetamol-based medicines after a popular brand faced a shortage, while adding the supply of other brands for pain relief and fever remained stable.


Articles in this issue:

Leave a Comment

Please keep in mind that all comments are moderated. Please do not use a spam keyword or a domain as your name, or else it will be deleted. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation instead. Thanks for your comments!

*This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.