Cheering Chinese travel home for the Lunar New Year



Factory owner Wang Chunfeng, who threw himself onto a crowded train, was among millions of Chinese making up for lost time this Lunar New Year after years of being separated from his family by a pandemic.

China will herald the Year of the Rabbit this weekend, ushering in the “Spring Festival” and the most important annual family reunion.

Big family reunion for Lunar New Year

After health checks were finally lifted, passengers at a Shanghai train station on Friday crowded into train cars bound for downtown Wuhan, where 2019’s first cases of Covid-19 were reported.

“Tomorrow we have a big family reunion,” Wang, in his 40s, said excitedly.

He said travel ahead of the reopening caused problems with his child’s school.

The rest of his family had made the trip a few days earlier.

“It’s the first time we’ve all been together in three years,” he added.

The end of China’s zero-Covid policy has heralded a return to some sort of normal life, even as case numbers have risen sharply across the country.

Leader Xi Jinping said this week he was “concerned” about the virus situation in rural areas as millions of hard-hit cities move to the countryside, where medical facilities may be understaffed and underfunded.

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But many on board the train were celebrating.

“We can’t wait to see our parents,” said 35-year-old Li, who was traveling with her child and husband to surprise relatives.

“To be sure of getting tickets, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. for a week.”

Getting tickets is “much more difficult than last year,” her husband explained.

The couple, who run a restaurant near Shanghai, had to make the six-hour journey in widely spaced seats.

Both said their relatives had recently recovered from Covid.

– New politics, old habits –

After the virus emerged in Wuhan, its 11 million citizens spent Lunar New Year 2020 in a lockdown that would ultimately cut it off from the outside world for 76 days.

Many other cities in Hubei Province followed suit.

Over the next few years, a series of movement restrictions and myriad testing requirements made traveling around China devilishly difficult.

China has seen a domestic travel boom since the government abruptly eased the zero-Covid policy in early December.

Since space on the train was tight, passengers hung smaller bags on each other’s seats, and a huge black suitcase blocked the corridor further up the carriage.

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Backpack on her knees, suitcase and gym bag under her feet, a young woman in a cozy yellow hat ticked the time watching a TV series on her phone while an older man snored as he snoozed contentedly in his seat.

Across the street, a young girl took a selfie, apparently delighted to be making the trip.

All of the travelers AFP spoke to on board the train said they contracted the virus and have since recovered.

But old habits are hard to break — one traveler wore a full hazmat suit, and others still chose to cover their faces with plastic visors.

A hostess regularly disinfected the carriage floor, while regular announcements broadcast a message stressing that the epidemic was not over.

Traveler Tang Shufeng didn’t need a reminder – he told AFP his grandfather recently died from the virus.

The 34-year-old, who works for a shipping company, said he is using the holiday to visit his grandmother, who lives about 50 kilometers from Wuhan.

“My grandmother is not doing well at all because of Covid,” he said, adding he was “very concerned”.

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