Covid-19 has dampened the travel plans of millions of Chinese for the Lunar New Year for a third straight year.
Pre-pandemic, the celebration would see as many as 3 billion trips made across China, and was the world’s largest annual migration of people.
But resurgent virus outbreaks have forced many to cancel their plans.
Chinese officials – still pursuing a zero-Covid strategy – have enforced strict measures with days to go before the 2022 Winter Olympics begin.
The Lunar New Year – also known as the Spring Festival in China – falls on 1 February this year.
Widely regarded as the most important time to be with family, hundreds of millions of people who have carved out a livelihood in cities make their way back to their hometowns to celebrate together.
The Chinese Ministry of Transportation estimates that 1.18 billion trips will be made this year.
While the figure remains a far cry from pre-pandemic numbers, there are still worries that it may turn into a super-spreader event.
Chinese citizens have been placed under strict government surveillance, with a colour-coded system determining whether they can travel. They are required to display a green health code on their phone – which indicates they have not been in Covid-infected areas – before boarding public transport and passing through highway points.
China’s insistence on pursuing a virus elimination policy has seen officials carry out rounds of mass testing and impose sudden lockdowns affecting millions of people in response to sporadic outbreaks across the country.
The Winter Olympics, which is scheduled to kick off on the first day of the Spring Festival, has further intensified pressure on local officials, who have shut down local municipalities and entire towns to battle the spread of the virus.
The measures have been met with dismay.
Migrant workers especially remain the hardest-hit, as the Spring Festival represents the few precious days a year where they can return to see their loved ones back home.
“Is it wrong for a migrant worker who toils day and night, who lives far away from home, to return to his hometown and reunite with his family during his only few days of annual holiday?” wrote a user on Chinese social media platform Weibo.