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China discourages travel

Bullet trains
Bullet trains sit at a station in preparation for the upcoming Lunar New Year travel peak in Nanjing, in eastern China's Jiangsu province on January 27, 2021, as authorities have encouraged people to stay put during the Spring Festival to curb the spread of of COVID-19 coronavirus. China OUT / AFP / STR

BEIJING, Jan 28, 2021 (AFP) – The travel plans of millions were thrown into disarray Thursday by cancelled trains, flights and Chinese government ‘advice’ to stay at home ahead of the Lunar New Year, a sign of China’s determination to keep virus cases low at all costs.

The capital Beijing is in the grip of a “complex Covid-19 situation”, city health authorities warned Thursday, as the start of the 40-day peak travel period began for the Lunar New Year holiday.

The festival, for many Chinese people the only opportunity to see relatives in the year, sees the world’s biggest annual human movement as hundreds of millions criss-cross the country.

But with cases on the rise — albeit at just scores a day, a fraction of the daily numbers in the US, UK and EU — authorities are hemming in movement with a complex web of localised lockdowns, virus tests, transport restrictions and vaguely worded travel advice.

China has not issued a stay-at-home order, but is instead making travel all but unfeasible and requesting cooperation from its vast population.

Makati City Pabakuna

That is especially the case in Beijing, where the Communist Party’s annual showpiece gathering of the National People’s Congress is set to be held in March.

“People in the capital city are urged to avoid unnecessary outbound trips and gatherings,” Beijing’s health authority said Thursday in its daily Covid-19 update.

“In response to the grave and complex COVID-19 situation in Beijing, the city authorities have proposed that residents stay put” during the holiday, the report added.

Hundreds of flights in and out of Beijing had been cancelled as of Thursday afternoon, according to flight tracker VariFlight.  Agence France-Presse