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China gears up to ring in Year of the Dragon with expected record 9 billion trips

Hong Kong CNN —

Travel across China ramped up in recent days as millions boarded trains and planes and braved heavily trafficked roads in what officials have estimated will be a record 9 billion trips surrounding the Lunar New Year on Saturday.

Train stations, airports and highways were packed with travelers carting suitcases, provisions and gifts for family members in recent days as the weeks-long “chunyun” or Spring Festival travel rush period, which began late last month, got into full swing.

Much of the “chunyun” travel sees workers leaving China’s prosperous large cities and returning to hometowns across smaller cities, towns and rural areas to celebrate with family and friends during an eight-day public holiday, which many extend.

For many, this year – the Year of the Dragon according to the Chinese zodiac calendar – marks the return of normal travel for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

China’s stringent coronavirus controls limited the movement of people across the country since 2020. Last year’s holiday took place just weeks after those measures were lifted, only to coincide with a wave of infections that complicated travel.

This year, travelers were determined to make it back to see loved ones, even as blizzards and freezing rains across parts of eastern and central China earlier this week decimated flight and train schedules and left motorists stranded for hours on snowy highways.

“Spring Festival is an important festival for Chinese people … People are more eager to go home to see their families and have a family reunion,” a Beijing worker surnamed Luo told CNN as he waited to board an 11-hour train to his hometown in southern Fujian earlier this week during those storms.

Travel was