The Chinese fear of the New Year celebrations


The infection numbers are in China dropped to an infinitesimally low level. At least officially. But just before the most important festival of the year, the country tightened the travel rules and punished quite a few workers.


The number seems so incredible that it would be better to repeat it again: two. China reported that many new infections on Thursday. Both cases of infection are said to have been imported. In addition, Beijing reported 16 asymptomatic infections. Here, too, 15 cases are said to have been imported. The total number of infections in China is just slightly more than 100,000. According to the National Health Commission, more than 40 million Chinese have already been vaccinated against Corona.

The Chinese Communist Party (CP) has a special relationship with numbers. They serve the Leninist cadre party to proclaim the fulfillment of goals that it has set itself. They should also signal to the citizens: We are keeping our promise.

Social life? Not possible without the app

So you shouldn’t take the Chinese corona numbers at face value. But even if they should be embellished: The trend is right, as life in China shows. The People’s Republic has the pandemic largely under control. In the big cities, life has long since started again. There is a celebration in the country’s clubs. Even in Wuhan, the city where the virus first broke out, people are crowding into restaurants again. The brave new world in China also includes a health app that observers see as the beginning of an authoritarian biosecurity state. Social life is no longer possible without this app.

But as low as the risk of a second wave seems: China is terrified of another outbreak. This Friday, the New Year celebrations in East and Southeast Asia begin. According to the lunar calendar, it rings in the year of the ox. But in China the festival will be canceled for many people – despite the low number of infections.

The New Year festival in China is usually like a migration of peoples. In 2019, before Corona, there were three billion trips in China for the New Year – with a population of 1.4 billion people. The New Year is the most important festival on the Chinese calendar – roughly comparable to Christmas and New Year’s Eve combined. For many Chinese, it is also the only way to see their family once a year. There are around 300 million migrant workers in China, most of whom live far from home. Often these workers leave their children in the care of their grandparents.

“Domestic observation” upon arrival

For many of these workers, this year means: New Year without children. Because China is trying to prevent its citizens from traveling. The National Health Commission has issued new rules that hit particularly hard those people who want to return to rural areas. If you want to travel to the hinterland, you have to present a negative corona test that is no older than seven days. In addition, a two-week “domestic observation” must be eaten after arrival.

Many Chinese believe that the health commission’s words sound civilized but are intended to mask the harsh reality. A graphic was circulating on social media showing how the lowest levels of administration will interpret the rules. What the commission justifies epidemiologically only means: “Pull the leash!”

The fear of a second wave runs like a thread through the Chinese fight against pandemics. The country has effectively closed its borders since March 2020, visas are only available in exceptional cases. Anyone entering the country must – depending on the region – be in quarantine and have several corona and antibody tests for between two and four weeks.

Foreign Office tightened travel warning for China

Most recently, the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” reported that China detained travelers for weeks and examined them again and again – despite negative corona tests. According to this, a German has been in a Chinese hospital since mid-January, although he presented a negative PCR and a negative antibody test on entry, as required. The man is said to have previously contracted Corona, but to have recovered.

The Federal Foreign Office tightened its travel advice for China this week. “Despite negative PCR and IgM antibody tests and a green QR code, people who have recovered from the disease will be placed in hospital quarantine for several weeks immediately upon arrival and subjected to extensive examinations,” it says. The measures are “invasive”, the German representations in China have “no influence” on the measures and their implementation. In plain language: if the Chinese authorities put them in a hospital, the German Foreign Ministry will not get them out there either.

Empty halls at the airports

All of the measures announced by the Health Commission seem to be having an effect: anyone looking at photos and videos of Chinese airports these days sees relatively empty halls. A spokesman for the transport ministry said a few days ago that he was expecting only 1.1 billion trips this year – 60 percent fewer than in 2019 and the lowest number since the New Year’s travel figures were first published in 2003.

But while migrant workers are the New Year’s losers, higher earners seem to be finding ways to vacation despite the measures. Hotel bookings are busily being made on Ctrip, for example. But as the online travel platform announced, four- and five-star accommodations are predominantly booked.

And “The Beijinger” also told its readers how and where to spend a nice New Year’s celebration despite the adverse circumstances: The city magazine recommended, among other things, a “Staycation” in the Beijing luxury hotel “Intercontinental”. The price for one night, dinner and champagne breakfast included: the equivalent of around 750 euros.

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