The Lunar New Year holiday has been described as the largest migration of people on the planet.
This year, many families will be reunited after nearly three years of strict zero-COVID curbs on travel.
At Beijing station many came laden with gifts, others were still taking extreme precautions, we saw one family dressed in full white hazmat suits.
Official statistics say 110 million people have travelled by train in the two weeks leading up to the New Year holiday, but the station wasn’t quite as busy as might be expected – perhaps an indication that COVID is still rife here.
Indeed, this country has been hit by a huge wave of infections after rules were abruptly dropped in December.
The chief epidemiologist at China Center for Disease Control has said 80% of the population has already caught the virus.
For those who’ve recovered, reunions are relished.
Luna Li and her toddler Annie were travelling to see their family for the first time in a year.
“I think to see the family is more important than getting worried about being sick again.” she said.
“It’s been three years, it’s really a long time, we want to get our life normal again.”
‘The peak won’t come again’
We travelled with her and others by train to Shandong province, which is home to the highest number of elderly people in the country.
There is still fear about the virus being transported to places like this, even President Xi has said in the last few days he is worried about further rural spread.
And it’s villages like Da Gu on the line. Small rural places with small rudimentary facilities.
It’s a picturesque place, surrounded by hills with quiet streets and traditional homes, but one tiny clinic is the only medical resource.
The doctor told us she wasn’t worried though.
“The epidemic has already passed. The peak will not come again,” she said.
“Most people have recovered. Only those with underlying diseases are not very good.”
More than 12,000 dead in a week
As dusk fell, people bought out boxes of paper money to burn in the street – a traditional practice on New Year’s Eve to honour the dead.
COVID means there are more to remember this year. More than 12,000 people died of the disease just last week, according to authorities.
The total number is unclear, but some modelling suggests this wave could claim more than a million lives.
However, for many families, it’s just a joy to be able to be together again.
Three generations of the Yin family gathered to eat traditional food, honour their ancestors and celebrate with fireworks.
Over dinner, the head of the family Yin Hexin reflected on how the worst is now behind them.
“Some elderly died, those with issues already, heart disease or something else. Others are fine,” he said.
“We don’t care much, normalisation or not, it feels like a cold.”
It’s unclear if the holiday will spark something bigger, or if the peak of this wave has truly passed.
But for many, for now, it just feels like a much longed for release.
This story originally Appeared on skynews