By Nicolas Asfouri
Hundreds of millions in China hustled to enjoy their first major national holiday since the country beat its coronavirus outbreak, filling airports and train stations on Thursday.
The Golden Week holiday marks the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and sees an astonishing annual movement of people trying to get home or take holidays.
But this year has added significance, with the crowds filling the concourses pointing to a country rebounding from the outbreak and parading the freedom to travel as a contrast to the rolling lockdowns hitting much of the world.
“Normally, we would take a family holiday abroad… but this year we opted for a staycation instead,” said Niu Honglin from Shanghai.
Niu booked rooms in a boutique hotel near Shanghai Disneyland but quickly encountered the problem of millions of extra tourists hunting fun at home.
“My daughter had to wait in line for nearly three hours to get on a ride,” she said.
Domestic travel has sprung back to life and given the economy a boost after the virus shuttered businesses and scared away tourists following its emergence in Wuhan late last year.
“People are travelling with a vengeance!” said Huo Binxing, a banker from Beijing who is heading to Lhasa in Tibet.
“It’s our first chance to unwind after such a stressful period.”
Wuhan in central China is back in business too, with visitors thronging to the Yellow Crane Tower — a Taoist shrine — according to the country’s biggest travel agency Ctrip.
But some have scrapped plans as the virus continues to seed anxiety.
Ming Rui, a fashion designer in Beijing, said she cancelled a visit to the coastal city Qingdao after two coronavirus cases were reported there last week.
“It was our first family trip this year, but we cancelled because I got very nervous,” Ming said, adding her parents are in their seventies.
More than 600 million trips will be taken during the holiday, down 20 percent from a year ago, Ctrip estimated, but they will still force the state railway to lay on 1,000 extra trains a day.
Around 108 million passengers will take trains during the eight-day holidays — around 13.5 million a day.
They are likely to bring much-needed spending to far-flung parts of China — last year, travellers spent $9.5 billion during the Golden Week.
Many will take luxury holidays at home, travel operator Quanar said, amid global travel restrictions.
But the absence of their tourist dollars this year will leave regional nations — from Thailand to Cambodia — wincing from the economic pain caused by the prolonged closure of borders.
At Beijing’s Capital Airport — whose check-in rows and aisles were empty in February — thousands of passengers queued up with their luggage and children in tow.
Life in the Chinese capital has gradually returned to normal after ghostly scenes of empty roads in January and February, and a second virus outbreak in June.
The once eerily empty streets in the city’s financial district are packed, previously deserted malls are full of shoppers and ice rinks have filled with children learning to skate again.
Chinese retail sales edged back to growth in August for the first time since the pandemic struck, signalling a rebound for the world’s second-largest economy.