Covid in China: Citizens discouraged from travelling to home towns for Chinese New Year

There were 54 new cases of Covid-19 reported in China on Thursday. No deaths. The number of people currently in lockdown is in excess of 60 million.

And reminiscent of the emergency hospitals built in Wuhan at this time last year, quarantine sites have been created, filled with portacabins to house people ordered to self-isolate.

Counter-Covid measures have been heightened in the approach to Chinese New Year.

Thursday marks the start of ‘Chunyun’ the annual getaway which usually sees the world’s largest mass movement of people. Some years have recorded three billion journeys over the 40-day period which begins two weeks prior to the New Year celebration which this year falls on February 12.

Quarantine sites have been created and filled with portacabins to house people ordered to self-isolate.

This year, the government has enforced strict controls on travel and, in some places with incentives, has encouraged people to stay where they live and work, and not travel to their home towns, as they ordinarily would.

The Ministry of Transport predicts there will be around 1.7 billion trips over the period this year and while that is potentially 15% higher than last year, when the pandemic took hold in Wuhan, it’s down 40% from 2019.

In Beijing, the travel restrictions have been getting tighter by the day. Protecting the capital from a major outbreak has always been a priority and the new rules are largely in response to an outbreak of less than 500 cases in the neighbouring Hebei province. That has prompted repeat mass testing of entire cities, of millions of people.

The latest regulation imposed on Thursday requires anyone arriving in Beijing to have had a test within the last seven days and if they intend to stay they must get tested again every week for two weeks. All of that is monitored through the health codes on our phones which are already set to become a permanent feature of living and working in China.

A majority of the new cases in China have emerged in rural areas and from imported infections. The government admitting that loopholes in their Covid control measures may have allowed it to re-emerge in village areas.

Chinese New Year celebrations in China may be quieter than normal. Credit: PA

It is into this tense environment that the World Health Organisation team emerged from their hotel quarantine to finally begin their onsite investigation in Wuhan. What they see and where they go over the coming days will determine how close we get to finding out the origin of Covid-19.