Tens of millions of people across China prepared to usher in the Lunar New Year yesterday with fireworks and big family reunions, but the global economic crisis put a dampener on celebrations.
Railways and planes worked full tilt over the weekend as people made last minute dashes home to welcome the Year of the Ox, which begins today.
A record 188 million people were expected to travel by train and another 24 million to fly over the 40 days before and after the New Year, in what is regarded as the biggest annual movement of people in the world.
The Ministry of Transport estimated 63.4 million trips were made on Saturday, the China Daily said.
And while bad weather failed to disrupt the transport network like it did last year in China, the global economic crisis put a dampener on celebrations.
In a New Year speech, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) warned of challenges in the year ahead, the People’s Daily reported yesterday, as the global economic crisis continued to impact the country.
“Taking a broad view of the situation abroad and domestically, challenges and opportunities exist,” the newspaper quoted Wen as saying, and he reiterated the importance of economic policies such as increasing domestic consumption.
Wen traveled to Sichuan Province on Saturday and was to spend last night in Wenchuan with survivors of the May 12 quake last year that killed nearly 70,000 people, the China Daily said.
Yesterday he visited a hospital in the city of Deyang and expressed condolences and solidarity for those still hospitalized with injuries, the paper said.
Meanwhile, fears were sparked of a bird flu outbreak after the Ministry of Health reported yesterday that a 29-year-old man had been infected with the H5N1 strain of the virus, the country’s sixth case in just three weeks.
The man, surnamed Zhou, fell ill on Jan. 15 in Guizhou Province, the ministry said in an online statement and was in a critical condition.
Four of the infected patients have died.
Authorities in Guizhou have launched an emergency response, and those who have come into close contact with Zhou are under medical observation, though none has displayed unusual symptoms, the ministry said.
In Beijing’s Ditan Park, which like many across the nation opened up yesterday for a fair where people came to buy festive treats, there were signs the economic crisis had taken its toll.
Thousands of visitors enjoyed the first day of the fair, but for pinwheel seller Zhu Sibai, business was slow. Zhu, who lives in Anhui Province, had traveled up to Beijing to sell his wares during the week-long fair — a trip he has taken annually for five years.
“Last year, on the first morning like this one, I sold 1,000-yuan [US$145] worth of pinwheels but this morning, I’ve only sold 10 yuan worth,” Zhu said.
The retail and hospitality sectors were also expected to suffer during the holiday, as consumers tried to save money.