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China’s Chinese New Year travel offers spark of economic rebound from COVID-19 crunch


SHANGHAI: Urban workers crowded train stations across China’s largest cities on Tuesday (Jan 17) as the country’s mass migration for Chinese New Year holidays hit high gear, an early sign of economic recovery as officials confirmed a historic plunge due to COVID-19 curbs.

The world’s second-largest economy slowed sharply in the fourth quarter, data showed on Tuesday, dragging 2022 growth down to one its worst performances in nearly half a century after three years of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns.

With mass travel for the Chinese New Year possible for the first time in nearly three years after the relaxing of some of the world’s tightest COVID-19 curbs, the economy stands to gain from hundreds of thousands of people a day spending more as they return to China’s hinterland.

While many analysts say a return to economic normality will be gradual as the impact of COVID-19 weakens, some see the Chinese New Year as a welcome early consumption boost.

“Peak infections passed in major cities in January, and with the Spring Festival coming, tourism is back, and the signs of a recovery in consumption are obvious,” said Nie Wen, a Shanghai based economist at the investment firm Hwabao Trust.

But even as workers move out, health experts fear a broadening and deepening of its COVID-19 outbreak, leaving the elderly in rural villages particularly vulnerable.

Despite Chinese authorities confirming a huge increase in deaths on Saturday – announcing that about 60,000 people with COVID-19 had died in hospitals between Dec 8 and Jan 12 – World Health Organization (WHO) officials are seeking a more sweeping accounting of death rates.

The WHO earlier welcomed Saturday’s announcement after last week warning that China was heavily under-reporting deaths from the virus.

Specifically, the UN agency wants information on so-called excess mortality – the number of all deaths beyond the norm during a crisis, the WHO said in a statement to Reuters.

“This is especially important during periods of surges when the health system is severely constrained,” the statement said on Monday.

The WHO added that it would continue working with China to provide advice and support, but had not yet fixed another formal meeting with Chinese officials after WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke with Ma Xiaowei, director of China’s National Health Commission, at the weekend.

Source: Channel News Asia