China’s first Lunar New Year without Covid restrictions fuels fears of a rural crisis


China’s first Lunar New Year without Covid restrictions fuels fears of a rural crisis. HONG KONG — Sounds are heard almost every day at midnight. Fireworks being set off one after the other. Funeral chants played on drums and traditional horn sounds.

The frequent ceremonies. Which are intended to free the spirits of the dead from purification. Come as China’s worst coronavirus outbreak. The pandemic spreads further into its rural, more vulnerable regions.

“It’s never been so much at once,” said the 24-year-old. Visiting his village home in southern Hunan province’s Taoyuan County for Lunar New Year, China’s biggest holiday.

China’s first Lunar New Year without Covid restrictions allowed. Families scattered across the country to reunite. Some of them for the first time in years, But migrant workers, students. And others traveling from Covid-affected cities could. Also bring the virus back to their hometowns. Raising fears especially for older residents.

The 40-day holiday period in China, also known as the Spring Festival, is often described. As the single largest annual human migration. The Chinese Ministry of Transport said this month. That it expects more than 2 billion passenger trips, double last year and 70% of what it was in 2019.

Although the Lunar New Year begins on Sunday. Holiday travel has been going on for weeks. With many people taking extra precautions despite the abrupt. End to “zero-Covid” restrictions in the wake of rare protests late last year.

After recovering from Covid in December, Fan Caiwen, 24. Decided not to take a plane or high-speed train to drive home this year.  He spent three days driving 1,000 miles alone from the southern city of Dongguan to Heze in Shandong province. His trunk full of gifts for family members.

Fan, who has not been home for the Spring Festival since 2020, said it was the first time he had driven so far.

“I was very nervous and tired,” she said. “But when of home, full of energy again and nothing can stop my desire to go home.”

Nationwide infections could last another two or three months. Zeng Guang, a former chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control. And Prevention, was quoted by local news outlet Caixin as saying last week. As major cities such as Beijing and Chongqing say their outbreaks have peaked. He said, “now is the time to focus most on rural areas.”

Zeng noted that rural areas have fewer medical resources available for. What he said are elderly people and people with disabilities. According to official statistics, in 2020 China’s rural areas had about five medical staff. And fewer than five hospital beds per 1,000 people. While urban areas had more than 11 medical staff and about nine hospital beds.

National Health Commission official Xiao Yahui said. The government’s Covid strategy for rural areas had two main focuses.

“The first is to ensure that the drugs can reach them. And that the supply lasts through the Spring Festival period or longer.” He told Chinese state media earlier this month. “Another is that ill patients can be treated. At regional hospitals or at least transferred to county hospitals.”

Some ordinary Chinese are also rallying to help.

Yuki Yang, 26, said she has been working with about 100 volunteers since mid-December to deliver medicine. And other Covid supplies to elderly people in villages around the country.

“Most of the time we contact local clinics. And distribute the pills in the presence of local doctors,” said Yang, who lives in Shanghai. “But I know more people need help.”

The Taoyuan County inspector. Who asked to remain anonymous for fear of government reprisals. Said his village had only one health clinic and it was not equipped to treat Covid patients. The lack of facilities means that those with Covid are more likely to travel elsewhere for treatment. Or recover at home to avoid further hospital exposure.

“The city has a comprehensive hospital. But it is still unmatched by the city’s medical resources,” he said.

At a hospital in Qingjian County in northern Shaanxi Province. About 30 to 40 people — middle-aged and elderly. And all wearing masks — lined up for outpatient registration one morning last week. Several elderly people were waiting for family members on a sofa near the hall entrance, coughing .

In the streets, people dressed in white. The traditional color of mourning in China. Can be seen walking in the funeral processions of two different people on the same day.

A local resident named Lee said he had attended five funerals since last December. All for people who died after contracting Covid. He said he had heard that at least 300 elderly people had died in the county this winter. Not including its administered villages or towns.

Beijing has denied claims by the World Health Organization. The US government and others that it has not been transparent about the severity of its outbreak.

A study by Peking University found.The government stopped providing daily case numbers and reported five or fewer. Death every day. Anecdotal reports, as well as satellite images of funeral homes across the country. State that the actual number is much higher.

In an update on Saturday, China said it had recorded 60,000. Covid-related deaths since December 8, including 5,503 deaths due to respiratory failure. Thus China’s official definition of a Covid death. Before, China’s official death toll since the outbreak began was about 5,270.

The WHO said it was working with Chinese officials to reduce. The spread of Covid in rural areas during the Lunar New Year and that China had prepared “many strategies”.

Abdi Rahman Mahmoud, director of WHO’s alert and response coordination department. Told a press conference last week, “From a policy point of view. And from a procedural point of view, we recommend that all countries.” need

Earlier this month, China’s Ministry of Agriculture advised. Farmers to cut Lunar New Year gatherings, get vaccinated, wear masks around. The elderly and send holiday greetings by phone or WeChat rather than in person. Saying the outbreak in rural areas had reached “the most difficult time.” ”

“The pandemic will pass, and the dawn is ahead,” the ministry said in a statement.

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