China introduces stricter measures for Chinese New Year travel rush to prevent Covid-19 resurgence

People wait to board trains at Hangzhou East Railway Station in eastern China's Zhejiang povince on Jan 28, 2021.
People wait to board trains at Hangzhou East Railway Station in eastern China's Zhejiang povince on Jan 28, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - As the Chinese New Year travel rush kicked off on Thursday (Jan 28), transport operators in China tightened measures to prevent the resurgence of Covid-19 cases and provide better service to passengers.

The Ministry of Transport further cut its forecast of passenger flow for the Chinese New Year travel season on Thursday, as the country has adopted strict anti-epidemic measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

On the first day of the Chinese New Year travel rush, the country was expected to handle 19.91 million passengers trips.

According to the ministry, about 1.15 billion passenger trips were expected to be made during the 40-day travel rush, a year-on-year decline of 20 per cent and more than 60 per cent lower than in 2019.

"The number is changing constantly," Ministry of Transport spokesman Wu Chungeng said at a news conference on Thursday.

"The daily passenger trips are growing slightly based on the data for the past three days," he said, adding that the number might be lower than expected because people were advised not to travel during the holiday.

On Thursday, the civil aviation sector expected to handle 8,850 flights and 540,000 passenger trips, a year-on-year decrease of 46.7 per cent and 71.2 per cent, respectively.

The national railway network expected to handle four million passenger trips, a drop of 66 per cent, while 37,600 passenger trips were expected to be handled at Beijing Capital International Airport and 16,000 passenger trips at Beijing Daxing International Airport.

The 40-day travel season started on Thursday and ends on March 8. It is regarded as the world's largest annual human migration.

Known as Spring Festival in China, the Chinese New Year holiday, which falls on Feb 12 this year, is China's most important holiday for family reunions. People usually gather to celebrate the week-long festival.

Safety first

This year, to curb the resurgence of the coronavirus, top authorities advised people not to travel and to celebrate the holiday where they work and live.

Transportation authorities also released guidelines to regulate measures to curb the virus, including wearing protective masks and increasing the frequency of disinfection.

Ms Ren Mengyi, the chief conductress of a bullet train from Beijing to Harbin, Heilongjiang province, said the staff on board will wear protective masks, goggles and gloves throughout the journey.

She said staff members are also required to remind passengers to wear masks, and the train is regularly disinfected, with special attention paid to frequently touched items such as door handles.

Likewise, similar measures are carried out on flights, ferries and long-distance buses, as well as at airports, bus stations and piers.

Also, passengers are required to follow epidemic control protocols during the journey, including presenting their health code, going through temperature checks and wearing masks.

To help reduce non-essential travel and lower the risk of the virus spreading, ticket return policies for rail and air travel have been changed to better serve customers.

According to the Civil Aviation Administration of China, flight tickets during the travel season can be returned or changed once without extra charge.

Since Jan 14, train tickets could be returned without charge up to eight days before the trip. The limit was previously 15 days in advance. Extra charges are still levied when tickets are returned within seven days. In addition, train tickets can be purchased 15 days before the trip instead of 30 days.

Meeting demand

Meanwhile, China Eastern Airlines has scheduled about 8,000 flights to meet the demands of travellers during the Spring Festival travel rush.

According to the carrier, the most popular destinations include Shanghai, Xi'an, Qingdao, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Hangzhou, with each of their airports expecting to receive more than 100 extra flights during the peak period.

Compared with last year, air travel demand has been on the decline. Many trips have been cancelled due to safety concerns arising from the emergence of new Covid-19 cases in China.

"The amount of air travellers has remained flat in the past few days, and on the first day of the travel rush, there has been no significant rise in passenger flow, probably because they are shelving their travel plans and have been dissuaded by the need for additional documents," said Mr Yu Ping, a manager with China Eastern Airlines.

On the first day of the Chinese New Year travel rush, 7,638 flights were cancelled as of noon, accounting for 51.93 per cent of the total planned flights of the day, according to data from Chinese aviation data and solution service provider AirSavvi.

Meanwhile, China Eastern Airlines and Shanghai-based budget carrier Spring Airlines both announced that customers who have bought tickets for flights during the 40-day period can apply for refunds or reschedule their trips for free.

All those travelling through the terminals at Shanghai's two airports are required to wear masks and have their temperature measured with infrared thermometers, according to the Shanghai Airport Authority.

The authority has also prepared masks, protective gear and disinfection products at departure halls to meet the needs of travellers, official sources said.

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