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Editorial : Spring Festival rush

【明報專訊】THE "Spring Festival rush" is a scene unique to China. The once-in-a-year mass migration of humans is a rarity in the world given its scale and geographical scope. Every year the central government and different departments of local governments make planning and coordination arrangements in advance so the process can be said to be smooth in general, providing protection for people when they embark on their journeys. But "man proposes, god disposes", as the saying goes. Contingencies are things difficult to predict. The pneumonia cases in Wuhan this year, in particular, remain uncertain, making a high level of vigilance particularly necessary.

The "Spring Festival rush", which will last for forty days, began on the tenth of this month. It is expected to involve three billion people this year, who will travel in all directions using all sorts of transportation. It is expected that the overall number of passengers in this year's Spring Festival rush will only go up slightly. However, following a trend that began several years ago, the number of passengers travelling by train and plane will rise by around 8% each. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the High speed railway system was further extended by 5,474 kilometres last year, so the number of passengers who can afford higher ticket prices will increase.

The Spring Festival rush is a barometer of the country's economic performance. In the heyday of the manufacturing industry, the direction of the migration was from the Pearl River Delta and the Yangtse River Delta to western provinces such as Sichuan before the holiday, and a rush back to the coastal cities after the holiday. In recent years, however, the number of people returning to Guangdong has been falling constantly, showing the trends of the labour market. The reason why the number of passengers increased sharply at the beginning of this year's rush is that the economy is under considerable downward pressure and there is a pervading atmosphere of a downturn for businesses. Another explanation is that owners of small businesses and workers are returning home earlier to spend the Chinese New Year with their families. Look at the flow of train tickets sold and one can see that there are still some for trains bound for big cities, showing that many workers might choose to resign and return to their hometowns and will put off returning to cities to find jobs temporarily.

Though there is a hint of an economic downturn, the number of people going abroad for vacations has been increasing constantly in recent years. This shows that some of the well-to-do people are getting even richer. As the protests in France remain incessant, the relationship between China and the US is strained and the Middle East is haunted by the spectre of war, it is believed that the number of tourists travelling to Europe and America will fall, while there will be a sharp increase in tourists travelling to neighbouring countries such as Japan, South Korea and South Eastern countries. Domestic travel will also be under immense pressure.

In this year's Spring Festival rush, one small detail can particularly easily lead to problems. Since 8th December, a number of cases of mysterious pneumonia in Wuhan have appeared. 41 cases have accumulated. Six patients have recovered and left hospital, while one has died. Seven people who remain hospitalised belong to serious cases. As for Hong Kong, there have been 67 suspicious cases in which all patients had been to Wuhan previously. After what happened during the 2003 SARS epidemic, people all over the world remain easily frightened by infectious diseases of unknown causes.

No part of the world has any experience in managing the Spring Festival rush. Ensuring its safety and smoothness will put the collective wisdom of the Chinese people to the test. The responsibility lies with officials' abilities to coordinate and handle contingencies. No one can lower their guard.

明報社評2020.01.13:春運考驗政府協調應急 部署嚴密切莫掉以輕心

春運是中國特有的景象,每年一度的人類大遷徙,規模之大和牽涉範圍之廣,世間罕有。每年中央與地方政府各部門都及早為此做出部署和協調,總體來說還算暢順,為國民出行提供保障,但人算不如天算,突發事件難以逆料,特別是今年武漢疫情仍存在未知之數,更加需要保持高度戒備狀態。

為期40天的春運已經在10號開始,預計今年將會有30億人次,從不同方向使用各種交通工具奔向四面八方。今年春運總旅客數量預計只有輕微上升,但有承接過去幾年前開始演變軌迹的特點,即鐵路和飛機的運客量均將分別提高8%左右,特別是去年高鐵新增鋪設5474公里,能承擔較高票價的旅客將會增加。

春運是國家經濟表現的晴雨表,在製造業鼎盛時期,春運的流向是節前勞工從珠三角和長三角前往四川等西部省份,節後返程是湧回沿海城市,但近年回到廣東的愈來愈少,反映勞工市場的走勢。今年春運旅客在前期急升的原因,經濟下行壓力大,生意不景氣氛濃厚,小商店老闆和員工提早回家過年也是一種解釋,從已經售出的火車票流向看,返程回到大城市的車票仍然有售,也可能是很多員工「辭工歸故里」,暫時不準備回城找工作。

雖然經濟有不景氣迹象,但近年外出旅遊特別是出國旅遊的人數不斷增加,反映一部分手中有餘錢的國民愈來愈富足,今年法國示威不斷,中美關係緊張,中東戰雲密佈,相信去歐美的旅客將會減少,周邊國家諸如日本、韓國和東南亞的旅客則大幅增加,國內旅遊的壓力也會很大。

今年春運還有一個細節特別容易出事。去年12月8日開始,武漢出現多宗不明原因肺炎疫情,累計41宗病例中,6人已經病癒出院,1人死亡,仍然住院的還有7宗是重症。香港則出現累計67宗患者曾經到過武漢的懷疑病例。經過2003年SARS一役,全球對於不明原因的傳染病仍然杯弓蛇影。

春運的管理,全世界都沒有經驗,如何保證安全和暢順,考驗中國人的集體智慧,責任在於官員的協調和應急處理能力,誰也不能掉以輕心。

■Glossary

vigilance : careful attention that you give to what is happening, so that you will notice any danger or illegal activity

barometer : something that shows the changes that are happening in an economic, social or political situation

incessant : never stopping

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