BEIJING – Nearly a dozen major Chinese cities are reporting a recovery in subway use, a sign that an “exit wave” of Covid-19 infections may have peaked in some urban areas.
More and more people are taking the subway in 11 of China’s biggest cities, with Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Nanjing among the latest metropolises to report a rebound in trips over the last week.
This comes after places such as Beijing, Zhengzhou and Chongqing, which had already seen subway usage and traffic congestion increasing from a trough reached around mid-December.
Covid-19 cases started soaring across the country from early December after the government suddenly dropped movement restrictions and testing requirements.
The reopening initially caused a slump in activity as people stayed home sick or to try and avoid getting sick, but the subway data suggests the worst may be over for some urban areas.
The rise is evidence to support an official statement on Sunday that the Covid-19 outbreak has peaked in the southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou, where the number of patients at fever clinics have been declining since Dec 23. Last week, the health authorities said infections have peaked in Beijing, Tianjin and Chongqing.
That reopening has led to a spike in deaths, although exactly how many people have died is unknown as there is no reliable data being released.
It is also unknown how matters are developing in much of the rest of the country, especially in the vast rural areas.
The coming weeks leading up to Chinese New Year, a seven-day public holiday starting from Jan 21, will be an important window to assess how widespread the rebound in mobility is, as hundreds of millions of Chinese are set to return to their hometowns.
Trips before and after the holiday have plummeted since the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020, but the complete removal of domestic travel restrictions means that many more people may try and go home for the break.
Although more people are moving around, they are not spending freely just yet.
Filmgoers have slowly been returning to theatres, but the national box office during the three-day New Year public holiday that just finished was only 554 million yuan (S$108 million), down 46 per cent from the 1.02 billion yuan in the same period in 2022, according to data from online ticketing platform Maoyan Entertainment.
And travel was relatively muted over the holiday, with the number of trips made little changed from a year earlier, while tourism revenue was up just 4 per cent compared to the same period in 2022, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism said. Tourism revenue was just 35 per cent of the levels reached in 2019, while there was only 43 per cent the number of trips.
China State Railway Group, the national railway operator, aims to transport 2.69 billion passengers in 2023, the company said on Tuesday. That would be a 68 per cent jump from the level in 2022, but only 3 per cent higher than the 2021 level, according to official data. BLOOMBERG