Lunar New Year holiday trips inside China surged 74% from last year after authorities scrapped COVID-19 travel curbs, state media reported on Saturday, though the number of journeys was still only half of pre-pandemic levels.
According to official data, the number of COVID deaths a showed weekly decline, however.
Between Jan. 20-26, a week that overlapped with six days of the holiday period, China registered 6,364 COVID-linked deaths, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said on Saturday, compared to 12,658 a week earlier.
Lunar New Year is the most important holiday of the year in China, when huge numbers of people working in prosperous coastal cities head to their hometowns and villages for family reunions.
This year's celebration is the first in three years without any form of lockdown curbs. China abandoned its strict "zero COVID" policy in early December after protests against the restrictions, allowing people to travel and the virus to spread rapidly throughout the country.
Responding to criticism about its coronavirus data, China expanded its definition for COVID death toll to include fatalities in hospitals caused by respiratory failure due to COVID and those whose died from a combination of COVID and other disease. Critics say this is still an underestimate as people who died at home are still excluded from the count.
An estimated 226 million domestic trips were made by all means including flights during the holiday week, state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing government figures.
This compares to around 130 million domestic trips during the holiday week last year, according to the transport ministry, but is still far below pre-pandemic levels: In the last Lunar New Year holiday before the novel coronavirus emerged in late 2019, some 420 million trips were made.
As for travel abroad, inbound and outbound cross-border trips jumped 120.5% from last year to 2.88 million, the National Immigration Administration said on Saturday.
During the Lunar New Year holiday in 2019, 12.53 million cross-border trips were made, the Xinhua news agency reported.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Robert Birsel, William Mallard and Raissa Kasolowsky)