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Authorities and experts have urged the public to restrict unnecessary movement and gatherings during the Lunar New Year holiday to help prevent and control COVID-19 amid rising risks ahead of the annual peak travel season in China.
Local authorities have been instructed to encourage the avoidance of mass movement and gatherings during and around the Spring Festival holiday, which falls in mid-February this year. Measures may include encouraging employees to spend the holiday where they work instead of returning to their hometown, and persuading people to avoid travel abroad, according to the latest circular released by the central COVID-19 response task force.
It is recommended that private gatherings, including family banquets, be limited to 10 people. Epidemic control and prevention plans should be made before gatherings of more than 50 people, and COVID-19 prevention and control measures should be strictly carried out, the circular said.
Transport authorities should take measures to avoid mass gatherings of travelers at airports and bus and train stations while implementing epidemic control and prevention measures such as temperature testing. Major festival events involving a large number of people should be put under strict control and supervision to control epidemic risks, the circular said.
With a worsening global pandemic and falling temperatures in winter, COVID-19 infections have been rising in China in the past few days, with more cases reported in cities including Beijing, Dalian, Liaoning province, and Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province.
Faced with the increasing risks, experts are calling for strict precautions during the mass movement of people with the approach of the Spring Festival holiday. Hundreds of millions of people travel across China during and around the festival in normal years.
Feng Zijian, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the movement of people should be put under control to some extent during and around Spring Festival to reduce COVID-19 epidemic risks.
"For example, unnecessary travel should be avoided, and people should not go to areas deemed as higher epidemic risks," he said on Tuesday.
"The public should be encouraged to stay in the city where they work during the festival."
Meanwhile, people with higher risks of infection should receive COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of the festival as a precaution, Feng said.
The public should continue taking strict precautions, including wearing masks, washing hands frequently and maintaining social distance, he said.
Zhang Boli, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and an expert in traditional Chinese medicine, said earlier that scattered COVID-19 outbreaks are almost unavoidable with the falling temperatures in winter, which make it easier for the novel coronavirus to survive. He called for the public to reduce gatherings and travel during and around Spring Festival.
Epidemic control and prevention in China is expected to improve significantly in spring following mass COVID-19 vaccination, he said.