“I haven’t been home for three years,” says Wang, who is visiting his parents in his home country for the first time for the Chinese New Year celebrations. Both are over 70 years old, live in Jingzhou, two and a half hours from the central Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, where the world’s first infections with the coronavirus were discovered in late 2019. He is not afraid to bring the virus with him in your trip and infect parents or relatives.
“They are all sick now,” says Wang, who runs a small shop in the capital with his wife. “It’s really dangerous for seniors, but they got through it just fine.” Like Wang, hundreds of millions of Chinese are returning to their hometowns for the Chinese New Year for the first time. It is traditionally the largest annual migration of peoples. Because of lockdowns and other restrictions imposed by the Covid-zero strategy, this familiar highlight of the year has had to be canceled for many Chinese people since 2020.
harmony and conflict resolution
This year, according to the traditional lunar calendar, the Year of the Rabbit will be welcomed on Sunday evening (CET: Saturday 5 pm). Chinese fortune tellers anticipate a year of harmony and conflict resolution. All hopes are pinned on the pandemic being somehow overcome.
After abruptly reverting from zero tolerance to full relaxation in early December, all restrictions have been lifted, allowing Chinese people to travel freely again. There’s plenty to do: Two billion individual passenger trips are expected during the 40 days of the peak travel season – around 70% of travel volume compared to the pre-pandemic period.
It is foreseeable that the virus will be carried from previously affected metropolises such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to small and medium-sized cities and rural areas in the domestic regions. The surge in travel is one reason the virus is spreading much faster than initially expected in the world’s most populous country.
“The speed of peaking and returning to normal was comparatively fast – in a way that exceeds our expectations,” said Vice Premier Liu He. While experts initially expected a second spike after the New Year’s festival because of the wave of travel, the ongoing outbreak is now turning into a single large wave, as reported by London-based research institute Airfinity.
“We are now anticipating a bigger and longer-lasting wave, with higher spikes in infections,” said Matt Linley of Airfinity. After cities, regions with less health care are now affected, where a particularly large number of elderly people live. In backward rural regions, they tend to take care of grandchildren, while parents earn money as migrant workers in cities and send them home.
In China, the elderly in particular are not sufficiently vaccinated. It is said that 25 million are completely unprotected. According to state media, a quarter of people over 60 receive no reinforcement. Vaccinations are often too long gone to have any real effect. China does not allow modern foreign vaccines for political reasons.
Some domestic provinces such as Hubei and Hunan may now see demand for intensive care beds six times their capacity, warned Airfinity director Linley. “Our forecasts anticipate significant strain on China’s healthcare system over the next two weeks.” He thinks it’s likely that “many treatable patients will die because of overcrowded hospitals and lack of care.”
The situation is dramatic, but the government is downplaying the scale and severity of the contagion. After almost three years of urgent warnings about the dangers of Covid-19, people now prefer to talk only about a “corona cold”.
According to Airfinity’s model calculations, the wave of infections could peak this week or next, with 4.8 million new infections per day. The death toll is likely to rise to an all-time high of 36,000 a day over the New Year holiday next week – significantly more than the previously forecast 25,000. (apa/dpa)