People in China are making 3 billion trips to celebrate the Lunar New Year, and it's not going to help the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak

Kevin Frayer / GettyChinese children wear protective masks as they wait to board trains at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China.
  • For 40 days from January 10 to February 18, China celebrates the Lunar New Year Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year.
  • China’s government estimates people will take 3 billion trips to celebrate in the largest annual human migration in the world.
  • China is also dealing with an outbreak of the Wuhan virus, a deadly coronavirus, that’s infected more than 500 people and killed 17.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

China’s Wuhan coronavirus outbreak couldn’t come at a worse time.

From January 10 to February 18, for 40 days, China is celebrating the Lunar New Year Spring Festival, also known as Chinese New Year. Trains, planes, roads, and ferries are filled to the brim as people journey home to be with their families.

The 2019-nCoV virus was first noticed in a meat market in Wuhan, China, which sold animal products like cats and bats, but it’s since spread to Beijing and Shenzhen, as well as South Korea, Thailand, and Japan. One case was reported in the US, and airports are screening passengers for the virus.

Travellers are wearing masks to try and avoid catching it, but one of the best ways to avoid the virus is to stay away from public places. Yet that’s difficult in China during the holiday, especially as this new year overlaps with university students’ winter break.

By Wednesday, the virus had killed 17 people and infected more than 500.

Here’s what the largest annual human migration looks like, and how the virus is impacting it, in photos.


Chunyun, also known as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, has begun.

Xinhua/Mao Siqian / GettyPassengers wait to board train K4526 at Shenzhen East Railway Station in Shenzhen, south China’s Guangdong Province, Jan. 9, 2020.

Source: CNN


Over 40 days, from January 10 to February 18, about 3 billion trips will be made by travellers on the move.

Wang Zhao / AFP / GettyA man leading a girl make their way with bags to the entrance of the Beijing railway station in the Chinese capital on January 10, 2020, as people begin to head for their hometowns ahead of the Lunar New Year.

Source: CNN


It’s the largest annual human migration in the world. By comparison, the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca usually includes about 2 million people.

Costfoto / Barcroft Media via GettyShenyang north railway station, the first day of Spring Festival transportation in 2020, Shenyang City, Liaoning Province, China, January 10, 2020.

Sources: China Daily, CNN, Business Insider


Stations are filled with masses of passengers waiting for buses, trains, planes, and ferries.

Costfoto / Barcroft Media / GettyPassengers wait at the train Hall of Hangzhou east railway station, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, January 9, 2020.

But this year it’s complicated with the outbreak of Wuhan virus, or 2019-nCoV. The virus, which has pneumonia-like symptoms, was first noted in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China.

Kevin Frayer/GettyChinese travellers wear protective masks as they arrive to board trains at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China.

Sources: Insider, Insider, The Diplomat


On Wednesday, more than 500 cases had been confirmed worldwide, with 17 deaths in China.

Kevin Frayer / GettyA Chinese woman wears a mask as she stands near the light of a police vehicle on regular duty at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China.

Sources: Business Insider, CNN, South China Morning Post, Los Angeles Times


Officials still don’t know everything about the virus, but it helps to wear face masks, as well as staying out of crowded public places — which makes the timing of the virus particularly bad.

Kevin Frayer / GettyChinese children wear protective masks as they wait to board trains at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China.

Source: Los Angeles Times


The point of Chunyun is to celebrate family. It’s focused on reunion and hope.

Xinhua/Ju Huanzong / GettyWang Changfu R, waves goodbye to his three-year-old daughter on train K4051 at Beijing Railway Station in Beijing, capital of China, Jan. 9, 2020.

Source: National Geographic


But now many are anxious about the virus, and fear a repeat of the SARS virus in 2002 and 2003, which killed 774 people. Face masks have sold out across the country.

Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesA girl wearing a face mask at Beijing’s central railway station.

Sources: AP News, CDC


China’s population is greater than 1 billion, and the celebration is already an annual headache for airports and train stations.

Jason Lee / ReutersTravellers wait for their train at a railway station as the annual Spring Festival travel rush begins ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year, in Beijing, China January 10, 2020.

Sources: National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, CNN


It’s the earliest Chinese New Year in eight years, and could result in additional congestion issues since the holiday overlaps with university students’ winter break.

Wang Zhao / AFP / GettyA woman carrying her bag walks up an overpass walkway outside the Beijing railway station in the Chinese capital on January 10, 2020, as people begin to head for their hometowns ahead of the Lunar New Year.

Source: CNN


On top of that, across the country, monitoring for signs of the virus has increased. Passengers leaving Wuhan by train, plane, or bus are having their temperatures checked. The Chinese government has asked people to cancel plans to visit Wuhan.

Kevin Frayer/GettyA Chinese girl wears a protective mask as her mother pushes her on a suitcase to board a train at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China.

Sources: Insider, South China Morning Post


The Wuhan virus can be transmitted by humans, and is no longer contained in China. Cases have been found in Thailand, South Korea, and Japan. People leaving China face delays in places like the US and Thailand, which are screening arrivals from China.

Lauren DeCicca/Getty ImagesPublic Health Officials run thermal scans on passengers arriving from Wuhan, China at Suvarnabumi Airport on January 8, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Sources: Insider, The New York Times


Chinese President Xi Jinping is taking it seriously. On China’s public radio, he said it was “extremely crucial” to stop the virus. He also said the government should “ensure that the masses have a quiet, peaceful and joyous Spring Festival.”

Xinhua/Xie Huanchi / GettyChinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, visits the Kunming international convention and exhibition centre in southwest China’s Yunnan Province, Jan. 20, 2020.

Sources: The New York Times, The Diplomat


So virus withstanding, the holiday continues. China follows the Gregorian calendar, but the holiday is based on the moon’s movements. This year, the Lunar New Year falls on January 25.

China Daily / ReutersA worker makes red lanterns at a workshop ahead of Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China January 10, 2020.

China celebrates for another 15 days after that. The Year of the Pig ends, and the Year of the Rat begins.

Andrea Verdelli/GettyChinese tourists flock to take photos with a newly installed rat sculpture in the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Sourc: CNBC


As China celebrates, red decorations are used everywhere. The colour represents prosperity.

STR /AFP / GettyThis photo taken on January 5, 2020 shows a worker making red paper used for Lunar New Year decorations, in Danzhai in China’s southwestern Guizhou province.

Source: National Geographic


Fireworks and lantern festivals are part of it, too, though they have decreased some as the government has tried to improve air quality. As of 2018, about 444 cities had banned or limited fireworks sales.

Andy Wong / APFire dragon dancers perform under a shower of sparks from molten iron during a temple fair at the Happy Valley amusement park in Beijing in 2019.

Sources: National Geographic, Global Times


Peak travel days were expected to be January 20 to January 22, and again on January 31 to February 1.

Jason Lee / ReutersPassengers head for their train at a railway station as the annual Spring Festival travel rush begins ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year, in Beijing, China on January 10, 2020.

Source: CNN


One of the main causes of congestion is China’s commuting work population. About 20% of China’s population lives in rural areas but travels to cities to work, and many of them head home for the holiday.

Wang Zhao / AFP / GettyA woman waits with her bags outside the entrance to Beijing railway station in the Chinese capital on January 10, 2020, as people begin to head for their hometowns ahead of the Lunar New Year.

Source: Smithsonian Magazine


Thousands of train services will be running to keep people moving, including bullet trains that go 185 mph. The country unveiled one that can go 217 mph earlier this month.

China Daily / ReutersMaintenance workers ride bicycles to inspect trains at a maintenance depot the night before the first day of the annual Spring Festival travel rush, ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year in Beijing, China, on January 9, 2020.

Sources: CNN, Business Insider


Staff were prepped and ready to work on the largest rail network in the world.

Xinhua/Huang Wei / GettyStewardesses from Chongqing section of China Railway Chengdu Group Co., Ltd attend the business and etiquette training to welcome the upcoming Spring Festival travel rush in southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality, Jan. 6, 2020.

Source: CNN


According to Chinese government estimations, of the 3 billion trips, 440 million will be by train. Since last year’s festivities, China built about 5,275 miles of new railroad.

Jason Lee / ReutersTravellers line up to board their train at a railway station as the annual Spring Festival travel rush begins ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year, in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China January 10, 2020.

Sources: China Daily, CNN


China’s government is also giving discounted tickets to people who take a “reverse route,” trying to incentivise people to leave their rural towns and go celebrate in cities.

Costfoto / Barcroft Media / GettyAerial view of parked EMU trains transport during the Spring Festival, Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China, January 10, 2020. It is the first day of Spring Festival 2020.

Source: China Daily


Even so, the majority of journeys will be in cars. China’s government estimates there will be about 2.43 billion road trips. This is a motorway during the holiday season back in 2018.

Visual China Group / GettyAerial view of vehicles waiting to pass a toll station on the Shenyang-Haikou expressway before the upcoming Chinese Spring Festival holiday in 2018.

Source: CNN


It’s a slow, tiring trip for many.

Jason Lee / ReutersTravellers wait for their train at a railway station as the annual Spring Festival travel rush begins ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year, in Beijing, China January 10, 2020.

And the stress on infrastructure is no laughing matter. In 2016, snow and freezing temperatures stranded 100,000 people at a single train station. China deployed 2,600 police guards to to maintain order.

STR / AFP / GettyTravellers crowd the area outside one of the main train stations in Guangzhou as they arrive for their trains to head home for the upcoming Lunar New Year in southern China’s Guangdong province on February 3, 2016. Vast

Source: The Guardian


Some Hong Kong protesters are using the holiday to continue calling for independence from China. As recently as January 1, 400 protesters were arrested during a march that turned violent.

Andy Wong / APA child holds up Chinese Lunar New Year greeting papers baring the words ‘The Revolution of Our Times’ as he distributes to shoppers during a protest at a shopping mall in Sha Tin district in Hong Kong, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020.

Source: NBC News


For many, Chunyun is the best part of the year, and worth the congestion to see friends and family.

Costfoto / Barcroft Media / GettyKindergarten children hold the word ‘Fu’ to welcome the coming Spring Festival, Rugao City, Jiangsu Province, China, January 9, 2020.

But this year will have the added challenge of not getting sick.

Kevin Frayer/GettyA Chinese man wears a protective mask as he waits to board a train at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China.

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