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China’s planning to ramp up passenger flights to 2019 levels ahead of the Chinese New Year holidays, despite surging COVID-19 cases

Tourists wait in line to enter the terminal building at the Haikou Meilan International Airport on August 11, 2022 in Haikou, Hainan Province of China.China is planning to ramp up flight volumes next year.

Luo Yunfei/China News Service via Getty Images

  • China plans to restore passenger flight volumes to 88% of the 2019 daily average by end-January, per Caixin financial.
  • The country is shifting away from its COVID-zero stance and is rolling back restrictions. 
  • But the number of cases and deaths have reportedly been surging — even though China reported 1,918 new local cases and two deaths on Sunday.

China plans to restore passenger flight volumes to nearly 90% of the 2019 pre-pandemic level by the end of January, as the country reopens its economy after three years of lockdowns, news outlet Caixin financial reported Friday.

The planned bump in flight numbers will coincide with the peak of the Chinese New Year season, when travel typically spikes as people return to their hometowns for the official week-long holidays beginning January 21, 2023.

Last week, the Civil Aviation Administration of China, or CAAC, released a three-stage plan to gradually increase flight numbers, following a shift in the country’s COVID-zero stance earlier in December.

Under the plan, daily passenger flights are expected to rise to 70% of the 2019 daily average by January 6, 2023, according to Caixin. This will rise to about 88% of the 2019 levels between January 7 to January 31.

The final phase of the plan through March 25 will see the sector in a stable recovery mode, Caixin reported, citing the CAAC.

The CAAC did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

China’s soft reopening is clashing with surging COVID-19 cases

The CAAC’s plan to ramp up flight volumes comes just as COVID-19 cases surge in China after the restrictions were loosened. The country reported 1,918 new local COVID-19 cases on Sunday, down from 2,028 on Saturday, according to China’s National Health Commission. There were two deaths on Sunday and none on Saturday, according to the authority.

Sunday’s reported cases was down sharply from 8,838 cases a week ago — but this number included asymptomatic cases, which China has since stopped counting. Anecdotal accounts also suggest much larger infection and fatality numbers than what is officially reported.

Crematoriums and funeral homes in Beijing and Shanghai are processing a rising number of people who have died from COVID-19, the Associated Press, Reuters, and Financial Times reported over the weekend. 

An employee at the state-owned Beijing Dongjiao Funeral Home told the FT that it cremated 150 bodies last Wednesday, and that about 30 or 40 of them had COVID-19. “We’re cremating them the same day they are brought in,” the employee added to FT. China officially reported zero deaths last Wednesday.

“We’re burning from morning until 10pm,” an unnamed employee at the Tongzhou funeral home in Beijing told the FT. “The furnaces can’t take it.”

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