Snow and freezing rain in China disrupted travel on Monday and had already caused hundreds of train and flight cancellations, as millions of people traveled across the country before the lunar new year holiday begins this weekend.
For many years, intense travel in and to China ahead of the holiday, known as the Spring Festival in Chinese, produced the world's largest annual migration.
During the coronavirus pandemic, fear of lockdowns, quarantines and other regulations deterred many from traveling. Last year, authorities abruptly lifted those rules weeks before the lunar new year after facing widespread protests, but many would-be travelers stayed because they were anxious about the spread of the virus.
This year was supposed to mark a return to normal levels of holiday travel. China's aviation regulator said it had scheduled 2,500 additional international flights ahead of Saturday's holiday, and transportation officials said they expected 480 million train trips during the 40-day travel surge, an increase of nearly 40 percent compared to last year.
But the bad weather, which began last week and was expected to last several more days, was already getting in the way.
“Now I am seriously worried about my trip home,” said Mei Huang, 45, a saleswoman in Beijing who planned to spend the holiday in her hometown in central Hubei province for the first time since the pandemic. “My way home doesn't seem as easy as before.”
The National Meteorological Center has issued warnings in recent days for snowstorms and blizzards in several provinces and cities in central and eastern China, including Chongqing, Guizhou, Hubei and Anhui.
Transportation officials have deployed thousands of employees to shovel snow and de-ice railroad tracks and roads. Police officers helped push cars stuck on icy roads. Nearly 100 toll stations on Anhui expressways have blocked cars from entering due to snow and icy conditions.
National rail operator China State Railway Group, which made an average of more than 11 million daily trips in the week after the annual rush began in late January, said on Saturday it had put trains out of service or restricted their speeds in Shanghai and parts of Hunan, Hubei and Guangdong provinces. The operator said it was also inspecting key routes, bridges, tunnels and other critical infrastructure.
The country's aviation regulator said hundreds of flights had been disrupted in recent days. Two runways were closed at Wuhan Tianhe Airport on Sunday, causing the cancellation of more than two hundred flights. There were also massive flight cancellations or delays at airports in Anhui and Hubei provinces.
Ms. Huang, the seller in Beijing, said she had decided to avoid traveling to her home in Hubei last lunar new year because she was worried about contracting and spreading the coronavirus. She said she still hoped to return this year, as long as the snow and slippery terrain didn't disrupt her plans.
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