Xi warns of Lunar New Year Covid surge amid nationwide travel boom

About two billion trips are expected to the rural areas in China during the holiday period

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Chinese President Xi Jinping is "concerned" that Lunar New Year travel could spark Covid outbreaks in rural areas.

In one of the world's largest migrations, more than two billion trips will be made during a 40-day period between January and February, travel authorities said.

State media reported that 30.2 million people travelled nationwide on Wednesday.

The numbers are set to double from the last year, when strict zero-Covid protocols preventing travel were in place.

"Xi said he was primarily concerned about rural areas and rural residents after the country adjusted its Covid-19 response measures," state news agency Xinhua reported.

"Epidemic prevention and control has entered a new stage, and we are still in a period that requires great efforts," Xi was reported as saying. He stressed the need to "address the shortcomings in epidemic prevention and control in rural areas".

Several Chinese cities are set to celebrate the Lunar New Year with firework display after local governments reversed bans on their sale in recent years.

China's most populous cities of Hangzhou, Kunming, Zhengzhou and Changsha, with more than 10 million people, will allow the sale of fireworks, Yicai business magazine reported.

As many as 36,000 people could die each day from Covid, according to the latest figures from an independent British-based forecasting firm Airfinity.

China said last Saturday that about 60,000 people with Covid died in hospitals between December 8 and January 12, making it an estimated ten-fold increase from previous disclosures.

However, that number excludes those who died at home, and some doctors in China have said they are discouraged from putting Covid on death certificates. Health experts say China's official figures are unlikely to reflect the true toll of the virus.

"Based on the reports of hospitals being overwhelmed and long queues outside funeral homes, we might estimate that a larger number of Covid deaths have occurred so far, maybe more than 600,000 rather than just 60,000," Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at Hong Kong University, told Reuters.

Updated: January 19, 2023, 9:41 AM