Lunar New Year rush begins in China after virus rules are lifted

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BEIJING – Hairdresser Wang Lidan is making an emotional New Year’s trip from Beijing to her hometown in northeast China – her first in three years after the government announced its strict “zero-COVID” policy which kept millions of people at home and sparked protests.

The relaxation of restrictions will allow a wave of pent-up travel desire, especially around China’s most important time for family gatherings. Known in China as the Spring Festival, this is perhaps the only time of the year when urban workers return to their hometowns.

The Chinese government expects more than 2.1 billion trips to be made during the 40-day travel period around New Year’s Day, which falls on Sunday.

“The restrictions are being lifted, which made me relax. So I think it’s time to go home,” Wang said before heading to Beijing Railway Station for a trip to Heilongjiang province.

In December, China suddenly dropped near-daily coronavirus testing and QR code checks on residents after public outrage spilled over into protests in Shanghai and other cities. This month, he dropped most of the remaining restrictions, including a requirement that travelers from abroad undergo a lengthy and expensive quarantine.

Many local governments also imposed their own quarantine on travelers from outside the region, which Wang said prevented her from leaving Beijing.

“If there was a revolution in Beijing, I would have to be quarantined in my hometown. And when I return to Beijing, I would be quarantined again,” she said.

“I would miss the Spring Festival and would delay returning to work if I was quarantined twice. So inconvenient!”

Hu Jinyuan, from the eastern area of ​​Shandon, had gone home every year despite the difficulties. He says he plans to continue regular COVID-19 testing and other safety measures as infections rise and patients flood hospitals after restrictions are lifted.

“I do nucleic acid tests every now and then. When I get to my city, I will definitely experiment as a means of self-defense. Otherwise, I won’t know if I have the disease. If I’m infected, I just isolate myself at home,” Hu said.

Wang Jingli said that he decided to work during the holidays because his company would pay him three times overtime. With the COVID-19 restrictions lifted, his children and wife will visit him in Beijing from their hometown in Henan province.

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

While the Lunar New Year has become a popular time to travel abroad, airlines are still only gradually resuming international flights and government departments are just getting started issuing or renewing travel documents.

Many countries have imposed testing requirements on travelers from China, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has protested, and there is still concern about the spread of the virus in China since protective measures were lifted.

Associated Press video reporter Olivia Zhang contributed to this report.

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