Photos: Lunar New Year rush begins in China – Al Jazeera English

Photos: Lunar New Year rush begins in China – Al Jazeera English

Hairstylist Wang Lidan is taking an emotional New Year’s trip from Beijing to her hometown in northeast China – her first such trip in three years – after the government lifted a strict “zero-COVID” policy that kept millions at home and sparked protests .

Dubbed the Spring Festival in China, the Lunar New Year holiday may be the only time of year when urban workers return to their hometowns and see the family they left behind.

The Chinese government expects about 2.1 billion trips will be made during a 40-day travel season surrounding the celebration, as people rush back for the traditional reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve. The first day of the Lunar New Year falls on a Sunday.

“The restrictions are being lifted, which put my mind at ease. I think it’s time to go home,” Wang said before heading to Beijing Railway Station to go to Heilongjiang Province.

In December, China abruptly halted near-daily coronavirus testing and QR code surveillance of residents after public frustration over protests in Shanghai and other cities boiled over. Most remaining restrictions were lifted this month, including requiring overseas travelers to go into a lengthy and expensive quarantine.

Many local governments had also imposed their own quarantines on travelers coming to their areas, and it was these that Wang said discouraged them from leaving Beijing.

“If there was an outbreak in Beijing, I would have to be quarantined in my hometown. And when I came back to Beijing, I was quarantined again,” she said.

“I would miss the Spring Festival and delay my return to work if I were quarantined twice. So uncomfortable!”

Hu Jinyuan from eastern Shandong Province has managed to return home every year despite the difficulties. He plans to continue regular COVID-19 testing and other measures given the high number of cases since restrictions were lifted.

“I do nucleic acid tests every now and then. When I arrive in my hometown, I will surely take a test for self-protection. Otherwise I don’t know if I’m infected. If I’m infected, I’ll just isolate myself at home,” Hu said.

Wang Jingli said he decided to live through the holiday as his company would triple his overtime pay. After the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, his children and wife will visit him from their hometown in Beijing’s Henan province.

“With the reopening, everyone is very excited about the Spring Festival because we can reunite with our families. But because of my work, I would spend my Spring Festival here in Beijing.”