SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The number of journeys taken over China’s three-day Tomb Sweeping Festival holiday tumbled by nearly two-thirds from last year, state media said, citing data from the transport ministry, as authorities battle outbreaks of COVID-19 across the country.
The decline was worse than expected and comes as analysts warn that the economic cost of keeping infections to a minimum is likely to soar, with sectors like tourism bearing the biggest brunt.
Total trips – including rail, air, waterway and road – reached an estimated 53.78 million over the three-day period beginning on April 3, down 63%, the official Economic Daily reported late on Tuesday.
The figure was also about 10% lower than 2020, when parts of China were still recovering from the first coronavirus outbreak that began in central China’s Wuhan.
Air travel was worst hit, with total passenger numbers falling to an estimated 562,000, down 87% from a year ago and 54% down on 2020. Road journeys fell 53% on the year, and were also slightly lower than 2020.
China’s transport ministry had said on Sunday that it expected road traffic to drop 20% and flights to fall 55% during the three-day holiday.
Throughout China, local authorities have been restricting traffic and subjecting travellers to strict testing requirements in order to curb an COVID-19 outbreak driven by the more infectious Omicron variant.
Nomura said in a note on Tuesday that around 193 million people are currently subject to full or partial lockdowns in 23 cities across China. The 23 cities account for 13.6% of the population and 22% of GDP.
“As has been the case over the last two years, the impact of containment measures has been most acute for the service sector and for smaller enterprises,” said Michael Hirson, China analyst with the Eurasia Group consultancy, which is tracking the impact of COVID controls on the Chinese economy.
“These segments are critical for China’s domestic economy, in particular for employment and thus consumption,” he added.
(This story corrects paragraph 5 to clarify that total passenger numbers, not flights, fell by 87%)
(Reporting by David Stanway; editing by Richard Pullin)