February 5, 2023

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Millions of Chinese workers commute ahead of Friday’s travel rush

  • Half a million people now cross China’s borders daily
  • China is now open to the world – a country leader tells the World Economic Forum
  • Medical workers rush to vaccinate the elderly

BEIJING (Reuters) – Millions of urban workers were commuting across China on Wednesday ahead of an expected mass migration peak in the Lunar New Year on Friday, as China’s leaders look to jumpstart its coronavirus-hit economy.

Unrestrained When officials last month ended three years of some of the world’s tightest coronavirus restrictions, workers flocked to railway stations and airports to head to small towns and rural homes, raising fears of a widespread virus outbreak.

Economists are scrutinizing the holiday season, known as the Spring Festival, for glimmers of a recovery in consumption in the world’s second-largest economy after fresh GDP data on Tuesday confirmed a sharp economic slowdown in China.

While some analysts expect the recovery to be slow, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He told the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on Tuesday that China is opening up to the world after three years of epidemic isolation.

National Immigration Administration officials said that, on average, half a million people have been moved in or out of China every day since the opening of its borders on Jan. 8, state media reported.

But with workers out of major cities, such as Shanghai, where officials say the virus peaked, many are heading to towns and villages where unvaccinated elderly people have not yet been exposed to COVID and healthcare systems are less equipped.

Large travel bags and gift boxes

As the spread of the coronavirus intensified, some were putting the virus out of their minds as they headed to the departure gates.

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Travelers were passing through railway and subway stations in Beijing and Shanghai, many carrying large suitcases with wheels and boxes full of food and gifts.

“I used to be a little anxious (about the COVID-19 epidemic),” said migrant worker Jiang Zhiguang, who was waiting in the crowd at Shanghai’s Hongqiao Railway Station.

“Now it doesn’t matter. Now it’s okay if you get infected. You’ll only be sick for two days,” Jiang, 30, told Reuters.

Local health officials announced Wednesday that the infection rate in the southern city of Guangzhou, the capital of China’s most populous province, has now exceeded 85%.

In the most isolated areas, the country’s medical workers this week are going from house to house in some remote villages to vaccinate the elderly, and China’s state news agency Xinhua on Tuesday described the efforts as the “last mile.”

Clinics in rural villages and towns are now being supplied with oxygen, and medical vehicles have been deployed to isolated areas.

As authorities on Saturday confirmed a massive increase in deaths — announcing that nearly 60,000 people infected with the coronavirus had died in hospitals between December 8 and January 12 — state media reported that health officials were not yet ready to inform the World Health Organization (WHO) . The additional data you are looking for now.

The World Health Organization said in a statement to Reuters on Tuesday that the U.N. agency specifically wants information on so-called excess deaths — the number of deaths above normal during a crisis.

The Global Times, a national tabloid published by the official People’s Daily, quoted Chinese experts as saying that the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention is already monitoring such data, but it will take some time before it is released.

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Reuters reported on Tuesday that doctors in public and private hospitals have been actively discouraged from attributing deaths to COVID.

Reporting by Bernard Orr for the Beijing, Beijing, and Shanghai newsrooms; Additional reporting by Xihao Jiang in Shanghai. Writing by Greg Torode. Editing by Michael Perry

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