Curbs condemn world no. 2 economy to weakest showing in
390,000 train passengers in Shanghai holiday exodus on
Domestic flights seen at more than 80% of pre-COVID levels
Fears for COVID spread; WHO pushing for fuller mortality
SHANGHAI, Jan 17 (Reuters) – Urban workers crowded train
stations across China’s largest cities on Tuesday as the
country’s mass migration for Lunar New Year holidays hit high
gear, an early sign of economic recovery as officials confirmed
a historic plunge due to COVID-19 curbs.
The world’s second-largest economy slowed sharply in the
fourth quarter, data showed on Tuesday, dragging 2022 growth
down to one its worst performances in nearly half a century
after three years of COVID restrictions and lockdowns.
With mass travel for the Lunar New Year possible for the
first time in nearly three years after the relaxing of some of
the world’s tightest COVID curbs, the economy stands to gain
from hundreds of thousands of people a day spending more as they
return to China’s hinterland.
While many analysts say a return to economic normality will
be gradual as the impact of COVID weakens, some see the Lunar
New Year as a welcome early consumption boost.
“Peak infections passed in major cities in January, and with
the Spring Festival coming, tourism is back, and the signs of a
recovery in consumption are obvious,” said Nie Wen, a Shanghai
based economist at the investment firm Hwabao Trust.
But even as workers move out, health experts fear a
broadening and deepening of its COVID outbreak, leaving the
elderly in rural villages particularly vulnerable.
Despite Chinese authorities confirming a huge increase in
deaths on Saturday – announcing that nearly 60,000 people with
COVID had died in hospitals between Dec. 8 and Jan. 12 – World
Health Organization (WHO) officials are seeking a more sweeping
accounting of death rates.
The WHO earlier welcomed Saturday’s announcement after last
week warning that China was heavily under-reporting deaths from
Specifically, the U.N. agency wants information on so-called
excess mortality – the number of all deaths beyond the norm
during a crisis, the WHO said in a statement to Reuters.
“This is especially important during periods of surges when
the health system is severely constrained,” the statement said
The WHO added that it would continue working with China to
provide advice and support, but had not yet fixed another formal
meeting with Chinese officials after WHO Director General Tedros
Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke with Ma Xiaowei, director of China’s
National Health Commission, at the weekend.
RISK, BUT OPTIMISM
The Ministry of Transport has estimated the rush will see a
total of 2.1 billion passenger trips nationwide between Jan. 7
and Feb. 15 as many Chinese city dwellers make the most of their
first chance for Lunar New Year trips to see extended family in
home regions since the pandemic began.
Chinese officials jettisoned Beijing’s “zero COVID” policy –
an approach previously championed by ruling Communist Party
leader Xi Jinping – in early December, letting the virus run
unchecked across its population of 1.4 billion people.
State media reported that some 390,000 passengers were
expected to travel from Shanghai train stations on Tuesday alone
for what is known as the Spring Festival holiday – seen as the
world’s largest annual mass migration before COVID.
As travellers moved through stations in Shanghai, China’s
largest city, some expressed optimism despite the risks.
“I am not worried about the virus. Because we are young, our
immunity is okay,” 37-year-old migrant worker Zhou Ning told
Reuters outside the Shanghai Railway Station as he prepared to
head back to his home area in Bazhong in the northeastern
province of Sichuan.
“Back in my hometown, there are many people who have tested
positive, but I am not worried about it.”
On a train leaving Shanghai, fellow migrant worker Feng
Hongwei, aged 21, said he was “so happy, so excited” as he began
a trek home to Puyang, Henan. “I haven’t seen my parents in two
The holiday season has also sparked a revival in domestic
air travel with more than 70,000 flights across China between
Jan. 7-13, according to industry data reported by Shanghai
Securities News on Monday. That’s equivalent to more than 80% of
the levels seen before the pandemic.
International air links are also recovering. Emirates
Airlines on Monday became the latest carrier to announce it
would resume services from its Dubai hub to Shanghai this week,
and would operate daily flights to Shanghai and Beijing from
(Reporting by Shanghai and Beijing newsrooms; Writing by Greg
Torode; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)