Lunar New Year in China: Travelers happy to leave with family despite epidemic

Lunar New Year in China: Travelers happy to leave with family despite epidemic

Published on: 01/20/2023 – 13:26

The Lunar New Year takes place this Saturday, January 21st in Asia. The calendar change marks the start of China’s “Spring Festival” holiday, the first holiday after three years of a “zero Covid” policy and some excitement at stations for the latest departures.

With our correspondent in Beijing, Stephane Lagarde

There is no duck in the Chinese zodiac, but it still sells best in the taverns across from Beijing Central Station. A specialty of the capital, the painted waterfowl are brought to friends and relatives who are brought along on long train journeys. This woman is about to travel fourteen hours to reach the Dongbei region of northeast China. “Most of all I want to see my son and daughter-in-law,” she said. I missed her very much. Tickets have been hard to come by this year, but that’s it! I haven’t been home for three years. It’s okay, I’m going. »

► Also read: In China, the disappearance of the last traces of “zero Covid”

The excitement of goodbye

For the first time in three years of the pandemic, China has lifted health restrictions, reviving mass transit for the start of the year of “tùzǐ,” meaning rabbit in Chinese, like these big-eared chapkas carried by some travellers. Suitcases on wheels eagerly push the anti-chill curtains at the entrance.

► Also read: China reports more than 60,000 Covid deaths since abandoning its ‘zero Covid’ policy

The 30-year-old is preparing to move in with his parents in Tangshan in Hebei, east of the capital. He too can hardly wait to eat the ravioli from the first spring moon. “Last year I couldn’t go home. Due to the pandemic, I had to celebrate the Lunar New Year at a co-worker’s house. For me, Spring Festival is all about my mother’s kitchen. And then there are the firecrackers. The problem is that fireworks are banned in my house like in Beijing. »

The “(traditional) Spring Festival” has also prompted a resumption of domestic air travel, Portal reports, with more than 70,000 flights across China, nearly 80% of pre-Covid-era levels.

The calendar change in China marks the start of China's

The calendar change in China marks the start of China’s “Spring Festival” holiday, the first holiday after three years of a zero-Covid policy and some excitement at stations for the latest departures. © Stephane Lagarde/RFI

Beijing launches anti-fake news campaign

In particular, the censorship will monitor information on cases of Covid contamination feared during the holidays in the countryside. Nothing should spoil “chunjie”, the spring festival in China and this first vacation without health restrictions in three years. Few should regret it, but an army of censorship workers will remain on deck during this holiday to banish what the Cyberspace Administration has called “dark emotions.” The press release, last Tuesday, January 17th, comes two months after the lifting of the zero Covid policy and the consequent spike in contamination. Since the country’s first wave of the epidemic began, Beijing has controlled the narrative around overcrowded hospitals, drug shortages and, most importantly, viral pneumonia-related deaths. It took several weeks for the health authorities to finally publish a number: 60,000 Covid deaths since December 8th. Guardians of the Great Computer Wall will also monitor networks during China Central Television’s traditional Lunar New Year Gala. The world’s most-watched show, which mixes entertainment and propaganda messages, is often the subject of derisive comments from netizens. The repression will focus on online fraud and excessive advertising, as well as “divination and superstitious activities,” according to the press release.