Is Corona now paralyzing rural China?

Beijing Two empty PCR test stations on the station forecourt in Beijing are the only indications that the strictest corona rules in the world applied in China until recently. The opposite is now the case, the state leadership has lifted all measures.

Millions of Chinese are now using their unexpectedly regained freedom to travel to their families across the country for the New Year celebrations. Many of them have not seen their loved ones since the pandemic first broke out three years ago.

Just like Mr. Liu, who is on his way to his hometown in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province with his wife and child. He stands out because he is one of the few travelers not to wear a mask. He wants to put them on later, he says. But the 33-year-old auctioneer has no worries about infecting himself or his family members: “We’ve all had it before”.

Retiree Li and his wife also want to visit their eldest son for their first New Year celebrations together in three years. Even the 70-year-old has no qualms about traveling. You would have already had Covid, a “slight course”. The worst is already over anyway, adds his wife.

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The elderly woman’s assessment is also a consequence of reporting in the state media. China has now passed the peak of the severe course of the Covid disease, the party spokesman “Global Times” reported, referring to the health authorities.

Corona could spread in China’s rural regions

But experts fear that the virus will spread to rural areas with poor medical care as a result of the wave of travel around Chinese New Year, causing numerous deaths there. China’s Ministry of Transport expects more than two billion trips in the next 40 days.
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British data processor Airfinity warned on Thursday that the New Year celebrations could become a superspreader event, with up to 4.8 million people becoming infected per day. At the same time, the number of deaths during the holiday week could rise to a record high of up to 36,000 per day. According to Airfinity estimates, around 674,000 Chinese have died from Corona so far.

Travelers on the way to the platform

The Ministry of Transport expects a total of two billion trips across the country.

(Photo: Bloomberg)

On December 7th, the government surprisingly ended its strict zero-Covid policy. Researchers at Peking University estimate that around 900 million Chinese, more than 60 percent of the population, were infected with the corona virus by mid-January. There is no official data on the infections because practically no tests are offered anymore.

While the virus first spread rapidly, especially in the cities with over a million inhabitants and the neighboring regions, more rural areas have so far been partially spared. But given the current wave of travel, the virus is likely to make its way to remote areas.

Preparations for the New Year celebrations

Chinese New Year is one of the most important festivals in the country, with the entire week following being a day off.

(Photo: IMAGO/VCG)

The new year, which is based on the lunar calendar, begins this Sunday. The most important celebration with the closest family takes place the evening before. The following week is free throughout China. The holidays around the Chinese New Year are the only opportunity in the year to travel to their families, especially for many of the approximately 300 million migrant workers.

Even Xi worries about rural China

Even head of state and party leader Xi Jinping expressed concern about the spread in rural China in a video conference with health and nursing staff on Wednesday. The range of medical services and the availability of medicines must be increased. It is the head of state’s most open admission to date of a health crisis resulting from the abrupt political reversal after three years of strict corona restrictions.

Xi Jinping

The Chinese leader has recently expressed concern that Lunar New Year travel could increase the risk of infection in rural China.

(Photo: dpa)

On the other hand, travelers at Beijing train station who speak to Handelsblatt have the impression that the worst is already over. Only one housekeeper from northeast China’s Shandong province prefers not to talk to strangers for fear of getting infected. You haven’t had Covid yet. However, she does not know whether her family members were already infected. They wouldn’t have talked about the subject.

Migrant worker Wang from the east Chinese province of Anhui, on the other hand, is convinced that the peak of the wave of the disease has already passed. He also had symptoms a month ago. However, he does not know whether it was actually Covid. Instead of spending money on the self-tests, which were difficult to obtain at the time, the 36-year-old craftsman preferred to buy something to eat.

West Railway Station in Beijing

Many migrant workers use the only opportunity of the year to visit their families.

(Photo: AP)

His family members in Anhui also had symptoms but had not been tested. Wang does not yet know whether he will return to Beijing after the New Year celebrations. He goes where he deserves the most. For the coming year he wishes health, happiness and more money.

At the end of the year, numerous lockdowns and then the corona wave as a result of the easing had paralyzed many industries. Trade and services were hit hardest. The crisis in the real estate sector continues. According to official estimates, China’s economy only grew by three percent last year. After the crisis year 2020, it is the second lowest value since 1976.

But here, too, China’s officials are giving the all-clear. He is confident that growth will “most likely return to normal” and that the world’s second-largest economy will “recover significantly” in 2023, stressed Vice Premier and Chief Economic Advisor Liu He on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Migrant workers Chen, 60, and his wife from Jiangsu in eastern China don’t really want to believe that. Both have been working in construction in Beijing for ten years and have earned significantly less in the past three years than before. In the capital recently much less was built than before.

>> Read also: China is clearly missing the growth target it has set itself

This year they are even still waiting for part of their annual salary. Her boss promised to transfer it by the New Year celebrations. But they don’t know if they can believe him, because nothing has arrived so far. Both of them are worried.

Chen and his wife, on the other hand, did not worry about Covid. She and her family members would have had it already. However, they have no hope of improvement in 2023, even after the end of the zero-Covid policy. It’s always the same, “day in, day out”.

More: China experts see many risks for the second largest economy in the world

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