Snow and freezing rain in China disrupted travel on Monday and had already caused hundreds of rail and flight cancellations as millions traveled across the country ahead of the start of the Lunar New Year holiday this weekend.
For many years, the heavy travel into and out of China before the holiday, known as the Spring Festival in Chinese, caused the world’s largest annual migration.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the fear of quarantines and other rules prevented many from traveling. Last year, authorities abruptly lifted those rules weeks before the Lunar New Year after facing widespread protests, but many would-be travelers stayed put because of concerns about the spread of the virus.
This year should mark a return to normal levels of holiday travel. China’s aviation regulator said it had scheduled 2,500 extra international flights ahead of the holiday on Saturday, and transport officials said they expected 480 million rail trips during the 40-day travel surge, up nearly 40 percent from last year.
But the bad weather, which started last week and is forecast to last for several more days, had already gotten in the way.
“I’m seriously worried about my trip back home now,” said Mei Huang, 45, a saleswoman in Beijing who planned to spend the holidays in her hometown in central Hubei province for the first time since the pandemic. “My road home doesn’t seem as smooth as it used to.”
The National Meteorological Center has issued warnings in recent days of blizzards and blizzards in several provinces and cities in central and eastern China, including Chongqing, Guizhou, Hubei and Anhui.
Transportation officials have deployed thousands of employees to shovel snow and de-ice railroad tracks and roads. Officers helped push cars stuck on icy roads. Nearly 100 highway toll stations in Anhui have blocked cars from entering due to snow and frost.
National rail operator China State Railway Group, which handled an average of more than 11 million daily trips a week after the annual rush began in late January, said on Saturday that it had either shut down trains or reduced speeds between Shanghai and parts of Hunan, Hubei and Guangdong provinces. The operator said it is also inspecting key routes, bridges, tunnels and other critical infrastructure.
The country’s aviation regulator said hundreds of flights had been grounded in recent days. Two runways were closed at Wuhan Tianhe Airport on Sunday, canceling more than two hundred flights. There were also mass flight cancellations or delays at airports in Anhui and Hubei provinces.
Ms. Huang, a saleswoman in Beijing, said she decided to avoid traveling to her home in Hubei last Lunar New Year because she was worried about infection and the spread of the coronavirus. She said she still hoped to return this year, as long as the snow and slickness didn’t derail her plans.