(CNN) — Normally at this time of year, hundreds of millions of Chinese people would be packing highways, trains and planes on homebound trips to celebrate the Lunar New Year with their family.
That is a lot to ask. The Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival in China, is the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar — the equivalent of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve combined.
For many Chinese who left their hometowns for better job opportunities in big cities, it is the only chance they may get to see their families this year. Parents who left children behind in villages so they could work may face another 12 months without them.
Travelers wait in the main hall of the Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station in Shanghai, China, on January 30, 2019.
Qilai Shen/Bloomberg/Getty Images
To discourage people from traveling, China’s National Health Commission has imposed new rules that require people returning to rural areas to produce a negative Covid-19 test taken within the previous 7 days, and to spend 14 days in “home observation” upon arrival.
Some local governments have added their own, stricter rules. For example, in some places, returnees need to spend two weeks in a government-approved quarantine hotel, instead of remaining under observation at home with their families.
The new restrictions have provoked fury on social media, with some questioning the government’s policy at a time when many people had hoped to go home.
“Do medical conditions in the vast rural areas allow everyone to have an coronavirus test every 7 days? Doesn’t the gathering for coronavirus tests bring a bigger risk of infection? In addition, the state only gives us 7 days of statutory holiday, and now you ask returnees to be isolated for 14 days. What are your brains made of?”
For months, state media has celebrated China’s success in taming the coronavirus, contrasting its speedy, effective measures with the chaotic approach of some Western governments.
Given the virus’ rapid transmission, Beijing recognizes the need to move quickly, as do the Chinese people, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it.
Second Lunar New Year hit by coronavirus
It’s the second year in a row that the Lunar New Year, which begins on February 12 this year, has been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than two million lives worldwide.