Snow and freezing rain in China were disrupting travel on Monday and had already caused hundreds of rail and flight cancellations, as millions of people traveled across the country before lunar new year holiday begins this weekend.
For many years, heavy travel within and into China ahead of the holiday, known as Spring Festival in Chinese, produced the world’s largest annual migration.
During the coronavirus pandemic, fear of lockdowns, quarantines and other rules deterred many from traveling. Last year, the authorities abruptly lifted those rules weeks before lunar new year after facing widespread protests, but many would-be travelers stayed put because they were anxious about spreading the virus.
This year was supposed to mark a return to normal levels of holiday travel. China’s aviation regulator said that it had scheduled 2,500 extra international flights ahead of the holiday on Saturday, and transport officials said that they expected 480 million rail trips during the 40-day travel surge, a nearly 40 percent increase from last year.
But the bad weather, which began last week and is forecast to last several more days, was already getting in the way.
“I’m seriously concerned about my trip back home now,” said Mei Huang, 45, a saleswoman in Beijing who planned to spend the holiday at her hometown in the central province of Hubei for the first time since the pandemic. “My way home doesn’t look as smooth as it used to.”
The National Meteorological Center issued warnings in recent days for snowstorms and blizzards in several provinces and cities in central and eastern China, including Chongqing, Guizhou, Hubei and Anhui.
Transport officials have deployed thousands of employees to shovel snow and defrost railways and roads. Police officers helped push cars trapped by the frozen roads. Nearly 100 highway toll stations in Anhui have blocked cars from entering because of snow and freezing conditions.
The national rail operator, China State Railway Group, which handled an average of more than 11 million daily journeys in the week after the annual rush began in late January, said on Saturday that it had either put trains out of service or restricted their speeds in Shanghai and parts of Hunan, Hubei and Guangdong provinces. The operator said it was also inspecting key routes, bridges, tunnels and other critical infrastructure.
The country’s aviation regulator said that hundreds of flights had been disrupted in recent days. Two runways were closed at the Wuhan Tianhe Airport on Sunday, leading to the cancellation of more than two hundred flights. There were also mass flight cancellations or delays at airports in Anhui and Hubei provinces.
Ms. Huang, the saleswoman in Beijing, said that she had decided to avoid traveling home to Hubei last lunar new year because she worried about contracting and spreading the coronavirus. She said she still hoped to make back this year, as long as snow and slippery didn’t disrupt her plans.