The Lunar New Year holiday has been described as the greatest migration of people on the planet.
This year, many families will be reunited after nearly three years of strict zero COVID restrictions on travel.
At the Beijing railway station, many came laden with gifts, others were still taking extreme precautions, we saw a family dressed in hazmat suits.
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Official statistics say 110 million people traveled by train in the two weeks leading up to the New Year holidays, but the station was not as busy as might have been expected – perhaps an indication that COVID is still rampant here.
Indeed, this country was hit by a huge wave of infections after the abrupt abandonment of menstruation in December.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control’s chief epidemiologist said 80% of the population had already caught the virus.
For those who have recovered, the reunion is savored.
Luna Li and her little Annie were traveling to see their family for the first time in a year.
“I think seeing family is more important than worrying about getting sick again.” she says.
“It’s been three years, it’s really long, we want to get back to a normal life.”
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We traveled with her and others by train to Shandong Province, home to the largest number of elderly people in the country.
There are still fears that the virus could be carried to places like this, even President Xi has said in recent days that he is worried about further rural spread.
And these are villages like Da Gu on the line. Small rural localities with small rudimentary facilities.
It is a picturesque place, surrounded by hills with quiet streets and traditional houses, but a small clinic is the only medical resource.
The doctor told us that she was not worried.
“The epidemic has already passed. The peak will not return,” she said.
“Most people have recovered. Only those with underlying illnesses are not doing very well.”
More than 12,000 dead in one week
As night fell, people bought boxes of paper money to burn in the street – a traditional New Year’s Eve practice to honor the dead.
COVID means there’s more to remember this year. More than 12,000 people died of the disease last week, authorities said.
The total number is unclear, but some modeling suggests this wave could claim more than a million lives.
However, for many families, it’s just a joy to be able to be together again.
Three generations of the Yin family gathered to eat traditional dishes, honor their ancestors and celebrate with fireworks.
Over dinner, family head Yin Hexin reflected on how the worst is now behind them.
“Some older people have died, those who already had problems, heart disease or whatever. Others are fine,” he said.
“Who cares, normalization or not, it sounds like a cold.”
It’s unclear if the holidays will trigger something bigger, or if the peak of this wave has truly passed.
But for many, for now, it looks like a highly anticipated release.