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China braces for COVID holiday surge as people leave megacities for hometowns

By Martin Quin Pollard and Bernard Orr BEIJING (Reuters) - Luggage-laden passengers flocked to railway stations and airports in China's megacities on Monday, heading home for...

By Martin Quin Pollard and Bernard Orr

BEIJING (Reuters) - Luggage-laden passengers flocked to railway stations and airports in China's megacities on Monday, heading home for holidays that health experts fear could intensify a COVID-19 outbreak that has claimed thousands of lives.

After three years of strict and suffocating anti-virus controls, China in early December abruptly abandoned its "zero COVID" policy, letting the virus run freely through its 1.4 billion population.

Authorities on Saturday said nearly 60,000 people with COVID had died in hospitals between Dec. 8 and Jan. 12, a huge increase from previous figures that had been criticised by the World Health Organisation for not reflecting the scale and severity of the outbreak.

Even those numbers most likely exclude many people dying at home, especially in rural areas with weaker medical systems, one health expert has said. Several experts forecast more than one million people in China will die from the disease this year.

Ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays, also known as the Spring Festival, which officially starts on Jan. 21, state media has been filled with stories of rural hospitals and clinics bolstering their supplies of drugs and equipment.

"The peak of COVID infection in our village has passed, but the Spring Festival is approaching and there are still left-behind villagers, especially the elderly, at risk of secondary infection," a doctor in Shaanxi province said in an article by regional news outlet Red Star News.

"If the anti-viral and other drugs were more abundant, I would be more confident," the doctor added.

As well as fever drugs and oxygen supplies, China's National Health Commission has said it would equip every village clinic with pulse oximeters, fingertip devices commonly used during the pandemic to quickly check oxygen levels.

TRAVEL RUSH

Beijing's main rail station has been packed with passengers leaving the capital in recent days, according to Reuters witnesses.

In China's most populous city, Shanghai, temporary night trains have been added to meet demand for travellers heading to the eastern Anhui Province, China's official state news agency Xinhua reported.

Meanwhile, daily arrivals in the gambling hub of Macau exceeded 55,000 on Saturday, the highest daily arrivals since the pandemic began.

In Hong Kong, the government has said it would increase the number of people who can pass through designated land border control points to the mainland to 65,000 people per day from 50,000 between Jan. 18 and Jan. 21.

China's transport ministry has said it expects more than 2 billion trips in the weeks around the holidays.

The revival of travel in China has lifted expectations of a rebound in the world's second-largest economy, which is suffering its lowest growth rates in nearly half a century.

Those hopes helped lift Asian equity markets on Monday, adding to gains of 4.2% last week.

China's blue-chip index was up 0.6% on Monday, while global oil prices have also been supported on expectations of a recovery in demand from the world's top importer China.

Chinese data on economic growth, retail sales and industrial output due this week are certain to be dismal, but markets will likely look past that to how China's reopening could bolster global growth, analysts say.

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04-03-2024 18:42:10 (UTC+7)

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EUR/USD

1.0853

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150.46

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 EUR/USD1.0853Sell
 GBP/USD1.2678↑ Buy
 USD/JPY150.46↑ Buy
 AUD/USD0.6520↑ Sell
 USD/CAD1.3563↑ Sell
 EUR/JPY163.30↑ Buy
 EUR/CHF0.9595↑ Buy
 Gold2,090.95↑ Sell
 Silver23.343Sell
 Copper3.8723↑ Sell
 Crude Oil WTI79.55↑ Sell
 Brent Oil83.25↑ Sell
 Natural Gas1.942Neutral
 US Coffee C186.43Neutral
 Euro Stoxx 504,899.75Sell
 S&P 5005,137.08↑ Buy
 DAX17,705.05Sell
 FTSE 1007,642.99↑ Sell
 Hang Seng16,595.97↑ Buy
 Small Cap 20002,076.39↑ Buy
 IBEX 3510,042.70Buy
 BASF47.208Buy
 Bayer28.09Neutral
 Allianz251.30↑ Sell
 Adidas185.08↑ Sell
 Lufthansa7.068↑ Sell
 Siemens AG181.46Buy
 Deutsche Bank AG12.535↑ Sell
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Ngoại tệMua vàoBán ra
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Cập nhật lúc 18:38:09 04/03/2024
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