China’s annual Golden Week festivities end Friday in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic with greatly reduced travel, frequent COVID testing and tight security in the capital ahead of this month’s 20th Communist Party Congress.
As in the past two years, authorities have tried to discourage the popular practice of traveling to one’s own town or village during the period around the country’s national holiday in early October. At least 24 provinces and cities made announcements calling on people to “spend the holiday locally,” including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
The advice has been followed by many Chinese, who prefer to stay close to home to avoid frequent COVID testing, ID checks and mandatory quarantines. Citizens were warned before the holidays to especially avoid 1,619 areas marked as “medium or high risk areas”.
“If you leave Beijing, even if only to the nearby province of Tianjin or Hebei, your health app on the phone could send you a message when you get back, reminding you that there were positive cases in the places you’ve been. said Allen, a 51-year-old information technology worker who lives in Beijing. “Then you should be quarantined at home. Travel means trouble.”
Only 9.7 million people went to the national railways on Oct. 1, the first day of the holiday, according to Shanghai’s Dragon TV. That compares with no fewer than 15 million train passengers on the first day of pre-pandemic Golden Weeks. The Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management had predicted that road traffic would fall by about 30% this week compared to the same period in 2021.
Many universities shortened the seven-day vacation period to three to five days, citing the risk of COVID.
The country’s zero-COVID policy led to even more restrictions in some locations. The government in northwestern Xinjiang has suspended all passenger traffic from the region on Tuesday. And in Xishuangbanna, a popular tourist destination in southern Yunnan province, residents and tourists were banned from leaving the city after a few positive cases were found.
Security measures have further dampened the celebratory mood in Beijing, where 2,296 delegates are soon to arrive for the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which begins on October 16.
Authorities are determined to avoid any disruption to the event, where President Xi Jinping is expected to be re-elected to a historic third term as the party’s general secretary. The number of police patrols has increased and identity cards are checked more often.
At the request of the Beijing Municipal Council, the anti-COVID measures at airports have been tightened. Travelers from areas with confirmed COVID cases in the past seven days are not allowed to enter the capital at all.
Visitors already in Beijing have been advised not to attend social events or enter crowded public places within seven days of arrival. They must also be tested twice within three days of their arrival.
Allen, the information technology officer, told VOA Mandarin that the atmosphere in Beijing’s neighborhoods is always tense ahead of major political events such as the Communist Party Congress.
At such times, “community volunteers” wearing red armbands patrol residential areas in search of “suspicious people,” he said, and plainclothes public security officers are present in large numbers at politically important sites such as Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of China. the people.
Ms Huang, a 42-year-old Beijing resident who works in the cultural innovation industry, said many people have been numbed by the incessant COVID testing they have to undergo.
“In Beijing, we have to do a test almost every 72 hours. Sometimes I forget when I’m busy with work, but when I take the subway or bus, or go shopping, my health app reminds me it’s time to do it again. It’s pretty inconvenient,” she said in an interview.
“People are getting used to it, but that doesn’t mean people support it. They just can’t help it,” she says.
Wu Se-Chih, deputy secretary general of Strategy and Public Institute in Taiwan, said in an interview that he believes the Chinese authorities have found that the anti-COVID measures provide them with useful methods of social control that will survive the pandemic. .
“The so-called stability-maintenance measure will only become more frequent before the 20th party congress,” he said. “In fact, I don’t think we will see any easing of any of these measures after Congress, especially early next year before the National People’s Congress in March.”