Fearless but with a mask: China travels again en masse

By Javier Triana

Beijing, Oct 1 (efe-epa).- For Jiang, who is about to start her vacation week, the only annoyance from the coronavirus pandemic is having to wear a mask.

For the rest – she rest without taking her eyes off her mobile – she has no fear, since China has gone 46 consecutive days without registering a single local contagion.

Then, while waiting at the Beijing South Station for her train to leave for her native Jinan (east), she says that “since the pandemic began, I have not traveled. Before, I was afraid.”

Now, judging by the 550 million internal displacements expected by local authorities over the next week, fear has shed its citizens like deciduous leaves in the middle of autumn.

In fact, it is the Mid-Autumn Festival that is partially responsible for this holiday period, which combines with National Day, Oct. 1, to provide the Chinese with one of the two “long” holidays they enjoy each year.

The previous one had been in January, during the lunar New Year celebrations, and then the country was forced to remain locked in its homes since it coincided with the first stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

On the eve of last “Chinese New Year’s Eve,” the government put the city of Wuhan in quarantine on Jan. 23 and even the holidays were extended throughout the country afterwards, to avoid mass displacements (and with them, a possible proliferation of infections) that characterize those dates.

However, the images of empty cities, almost ghost-like, will not be repeated on these holidays, with tourist offers of all kinds, discounts, full hotels and sold out tickets.

In the center of Beijing, where in the worst days of the virus one could hear their own footsteps, today the hubbub is once again the protagonist, mixed with the image of the omnipresent Chinese flags that each portal plants at the entrance of the building.

In the surroundings of the Forbidden City, the old imperial palace (converted into a museum), floods of people walked – many with the Chinese flag on their backs- followed the guide of the organized tour on duty or took pictures, the perfect excuse to momentarily remove one’s mask.

Only these superseded the flags as the most repeated element of the landscape, while social distancing remains a distant memory.

Tickets to visit monuments are sold out throughout the holidays, until Oct. 8.

The same panorama can be seen on the Great Wall: on the section closest to the Chinese capital, Badaling, countless visitors were patiently going up and down the monument due to the crowding of people.

On the other hand, in the South Train Station of the capital (from where 1.72 million passengers will depart these days), few are those who say they travel for tourism, such as the university student Zhang, who returns to the eastern province of Jiangsu to visit her family.

In her case, as in that of millions of students, she needs a special permit to leave campus, as educational institutions try to control the movement of people and minimize the risks of possible contagion.

Wang, a woman in her 30s, also awaits the departure of her train by fiddling with her mobile phone. Like Zhang, she returns to the family home for seven days, only in her case she will not need as much travel time: she is originally from Tianjin, half an hour by bullet train.

A reverse trip has been made by the Zhao family, who have come to the capital from Hefei – about 1,000 kilometers south of Beijing – to visit their relatives.

They do not plan a very expensive vacation, says the patriarch with one of the grandchildren in his arms, since his business, restoration, has suffered a bleak 2020.

Asked if he is afraid to travel in the current health circumstances, Grandpa Zhao replies that “traveling is not 100 percent safe … but neither is staying at home.” EFE-EPA

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