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Hong Kong (CNN) — China is on the move again. As October 1 arrives, hundreds of millions of people are expected to pack highways, trains and planes for the National Day holiday, one of the busiest times for travel in the world’s most populous country.

The eight-day Mid-Autumn Festival break is China’s first major holiday since it emerged from the coronavirus outbreak. While life has largely returned to normal in recent months, the upcoming “Golden Week” holiday will be an ambitious test of China’s success in taming the virus — and a much-awaited boost to its economic recovery.
Last year, a total of 782 million domestic trips were made during the holiday, generating nearly 650 billion yuan ($95 billion) of tourism revenue, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Tourists crowd the Leshan Giant Buddha in China’s Sichuan province during the National Day holiday in 2019.

Liu Zhongjun/China News Service/VCG/Getty Images

The ministry predicts 550 million domestic trips to be made this year, while Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency, estimates the number to be over 600 million — both above 70% of last year’s level.
The scale of mass movement in such a short period of time is unthinkable in many parts of the world, where governments are still struggling to control soaring infections. In the United States, the number of coronavirus cases topped 7 million over the weekend. Much of Europe is now in the grip of a second wave of infections; even countries largely spared by the first wave, such as Greece and Croatia, have seen cases surging as tourists took summer vacations following the reopening of Europe’s internal borders in June.

But for now, the virus is much less of a concern for Chinese holidaymakers, given China’s close to zero local transmission and some of the world’s strictest border control measures.

Chen Qianmei, a 29-year-old from the southern city of Guangzhou, flew to Shanghai on Tuesday for her Mid-Autumn Festival vacation. She said she wasn’t worried about the virus, although she still took precautions.

“I think China has (the virus) under pretty good control,” she said. “I’m wearing masks and bringing alcohol wipes with me to clean my hands, especially before eating — although in Shanghai, few people wear masks now.”

Chinese security personnel keep watch on the crowds on a popular pedestrian shopping street during the 'Golden Week' holiday in Shanghai in 2017.

Chinese security personnel keep watch on the crowds on a popular pedestrian shopping street during the ‘Golden Week’ holiday in Shanghai in 2017.

AFP Contributor/AFP/AFP via Getty Images

Show of confidence

The coronavirus, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan last December before spreading across the globe, has been largely contained in China since March. In the following months, small-scale outbreaks have occasionally flared — from the country’s northeast to the capital Beijing and the far western region of Xinjiang, but all were swiftly contained through stringent lockdown measures and mass testing programs.

China has not reported any locally transmitted symptomatic case since mid-August, and is rigorously screening overseas arrivals and workers at risk of exposure to the virus. Last week, it detected its first local asymptomatic infections in over a month, after two port workers unloading frozen imported seafood in Qingdao tested positive for the virus in routine screening.

Two residents walk in an empty park during the Lunar New Year holiday on January 27 in Wuhan, China.

Two residents walk in an empty park during the Lunar New Year holiday on January 27 in Wuhan, China.

Stringer/Getty Images

The sense of control is in stark contrast to the anxiety and foreboding that had overshadowed China’s last major travel period — the Lunar New Year holiday in late January. Back then, the coronavirus outbreak was sweeping through Wuhan after local authorities initially silenced healthcare workers trying to sound the alarm. Two days before Lunar New Year’s Day, the Chinese government ordered an unprecedented lockdown on the city, but by then, the virus had already spread to other provinces and beyond the country, as hundreds of millions of Chinese people headed home for family reunions or took vacations overseas.

More than eight months on, China’s restrictions on domestic movement have all been lifted. Officially, some cities still require passengers to produce a green health code on their smartphones at train stations and airports to show they’re safe to travel, but implementation can be lax in practice.
In a sign of the government’s confidence in keeping the virus under control, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that domestic travels can be arranged “as normal” for the upcoming holiday, given all cities in mainland China are marked as low risk for the coronavirus.

But the center still recommended travelers obey local epidemic control measures, wear masks on trains, flights and in crowded places, and keep 1-meter (3.2 feet) distance at tourist spots — the last of which could be difficult if not impossible to observe, given the size of crowds that often inundate popular sites during Chinese holidays.

Last week, China’s Culture and Tourism Ministry ordered tourist sites to restrict capacity to 75% during the Mid-Autumn Festival, up from a limit of 50% from previous months. To facilitate contact tracing, visitors are required to register online in advance.

Tourists wearing face masks line up outside the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan, China on September 3.

Tourists wearing face masks line up outside the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan, China on September 3.


Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese CDC, told state broadcaster CCTV earlier this month that there is no need to impose extra restrictions for domestic travel during the National Day holiday, because the coronavirus is no longer circulating in society.
“It is now impossible to contract the virus in social environments,” he said. “Although we are still finding dozens of imported cases among travelers arriving in China on international flights, the imported cases are managed in a closed loop and won’t spread to society, and therefore won’t have much impact on domestic residents.”

Domestic travel boost

Chinese authorities — including the Chinese CDC and foreign ministry — have urged Chinese citizens to avoid unnecessary overseas travel, citing the still-raging pandemic across the world.

The Golden Week holiday — the longest in China along with the Lunar New Year holiday — has traditionally seen middle-class Chinese travel abroad in large numbers. Last year, more than 7 million overseas trips were made during the holiday, with Japan and Thailand among the top destinations, government data showed.
Chinese tourists wait for their tour bus in the Ginza shopping district on October 02, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan.

Chinese tourists wait for their tour bus in the Ginza shopping district on October 02, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan.

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images

But this year, overseas trips will be practically impossible to make, given the various visa restrictions and quarantine requirements imposed around the world, as well as a lack of international flights. Upon their return to China, travelers must also face two weeks of strict quarantine — with at least half of the time required to be spent in government-appointed hotels.

The only exception is Macau, which waived quarantine requirements in July for mainland travelers who obtained a negative test result for coronavirus within seven days. Last week, mainland China fully resumed tourist visas for the semi-autonomous region, just in time for the National Day holiday.

As Chinese holidaymakers turn to domestic destinations, local governments are competing to attract tourists. According to Ctrip, more than 20 provincial and municipal governments have issued travel vouchers, while some 1,500 tourist spots across China have offered free or discounted tickets.
China’s railway operator, China State Railway Group, expected a total of 108 million train rides from September 28 to October 8. To cope with the increased Mid-Autumn Festival demand, an additional 1,200 trains have been added to service, but some tickets along popular routes have been snapped up anyway.
Some flights have also sold out. Qunar, a Chinese online travel booking site, estimated more than 15 million domestic flight tickets would be sold for Golden Week, a 10% increase from 2019, partly due to a drop in the price of airfares.
And on Chinese highways, massive traffic jams are expected again this year. An average of 51 million highway trips per day are expected during the eight-day holiday, a 1% to 3% increase from last year, according to the Transport Ministry.
Tourists take a selfie at the the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan on September 3, 2020.

Tourists take a selfie at the the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan on September 3, 2020.


Wuhan, the original epicenter of the outbreak, has become a popular destination for Chinese tourists since its lockdown was lifted in April. Last month, Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, announced that nearly 400 of its tourist attractions would be open for tourists for free until the end of the year. On a booking platform set up by the province since the announcement, more than 3.74 million tickets for tourist sites in Wuhan were booked in just over a month, according to the state-run Hubei Daily.
The Yellow Crane Tower, a famous landmark of Wuhan, topped the list of the most sought-after attractions for Golden Week, according to Ctrip.

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Murkowski to back Barrett for Supreme Court, despite opposing GOP process


Sen. Lisa Murkowski will vote to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, despite her opposition to moving forward in an election year.

The Alaska Republican said Saturday she will split her votes on Barrett. She will vote against a procedural hurdle on Sunday to advance her nomination over a filibuster, due to her longstanding objection to confirming a justice so close to the Nov. 3 presidential election.

But based on the merits of Barrett’s credentials for the job, she’s a ‘yes.’

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Tension Has Escalated Between Tory MPs And Marcus Rashford Ahead Of A Vote On Free School Meals

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Tories must face up to their “conscience” today on a vote on extending free school meals over the holidays, Labour has claimed, as footballer and anti-poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford ramped up the pressure on politicians to back it.

The challenge from shadow children’s minister Tulip Siddiq came after another difficult morning for the government as Manchester United star Rashford said he was “paying close attention” to the vote and then got into a Twitter spat with Tory MP Steve Baker over who has the power to introduce the free meals.

Moments later Tory backbencher Anne Marie Morris, MP for Newton Abbot in Devon, broke ranks to say she would be supporting Labour’s motion on extending the free school meals until next Easter. Education select committee chair Conservavtive Robert Halfon has urged the government to work with Rashford.

When asked at Prime Minister’s Questions to back the proposal by Labour, Boris Johnson said the government wanted to use the benefits system to support children in the hoildays.

“I want to make sure we continue to support families thoughout the crisis so they have the cash available to feed their kids as they need to do,” he said. 

Earlier this week government minister Nadhim Zahawi has said that struggling families can claim Universal Credit and that many parents do not like being labelled as being on ‘free school meals’ instead preferring to pay a modest sum of money to a holiday club to provide food.

Siddiq told PoliticsHome: “A lot of the Tories, Don Valley, Bishop Aukland and places like that they’re all a little bit worried. It’s the kind of thing that can be used against them in their patches.

“Even if they don’t walk through the lobbies with us tonight that they put a lot of pressure on the prime minister. And that’s how it happened last time.

“I know it’s not easy to break the whip but some votes are a matter of conscience and this is one of them.

“We’re going to be facing the toughest winter of a generation, there’s coronavirus, the end of the furlough scheme – children are in for a tough ride. Why can’t we just do one last thing for parents so they don’t have to worry?”

She said some Tories she had spoken to directly in Parliament on Tuesday were sympathetic to the issue but they did not want to break the whip.

The vouchers were introduced for the poorest families in August after significant pressure from Rashford. The England striker said today that the situation for children is now worse than in the summer.

The vote at 7pm is on a Labour motion calling on the government to continue directly funding free school meals over the holidays until Easter 2021. They say it would prevent a million children going hungry.

Rashford tweeted that he was paying close attention to the Commons today and to those who are willing to “turn a blind eye” to the needs of our most vulnerable children.

He wrote: “2.2M of them who currently qualify for Free School Meals. 42% newly registered. Not to mention the 1.5M children who currently don’t qualify.”

He then got into an disagreement with MP Steve Baker who said Rashford was the one with all the power to make the change on free school meals because he has more Twitter followers that he does, despite Baker being a politician for the ruling Conservative party.

Baker said instead Universal Credit could be boosted to try and help families..

Morris, who was elected in 2010 said that she would vote against her own party tonight because of the economic fall out for people in her constituency.

She tweeted: “The ongoing pandemic has had a heavy impact on many across Teignbridge, bringing with it significant economic difficulties for many. This is why I am supporting the motion calling for the continuation of direct funding for FSM over school holidays until Easter 2021.

“This time-limited measure is a perfectly sensible response as we deal with the economic consequences of Covid-19. Longer-term I believe it is right that those eligible should be supported through the Holidays & Activities Food Programme and the Universal Credit system.”

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Trump comment on ‘blowing up’ Nile Dam angers Ethiopia

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image copyrightReuters

image captionThe dam will be the biggest hydro-electric project in Africa

Ethiopia’s prime minister has said his country “will not cave in to aggressions of any kind” after President Donald Trump suggested Egypt could destroy a controversial Nile dam.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is at the centre of a long-running dispute involving Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan.

Mr Trump said Egypt would not be able to live with the dam and might “blow up” the construction.

Ethiopia sees the US as siding with Egypt in the dispute.

The US announced in September that it would cut some aid to Ethiopia after it began filling the reservoir behind the dam in July.

Why is the dam disputed?

Egypt relies for the bulk of its water needs on the Nile and is concerned supplies could be cut off and its economy undermined as Ethiopia takes control of the flow of Africa’s longest river.

Once complete, the $4bn (£3bn) structure on the Blue Nile in western Ethiopia will be Africa’s largest hydro-electric project.

The speed with which Ethiopia fills up the dam will govern how severely Egypt is affected – the slower the better as far as Cairo is concerned. That process is expected to take several years.

  • Who owns the River Nile – and why it matters

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Sudan, further upstream than Egypt, is also concerned about water shortages.

Ethiopia, which announced the start of construction in 2011, says it needs the dam for its economic development.

Negotiations between the three countries were being chaired by the US, but are now overseen by the African Union.

What did the Ethiopian PM say?

PM Abiy Ahmed did not address Mr Trump’s remarks directly, but there appears to be little doubt what prompted his robust comments.

Ethiopians would finish the dam, he vowed.

“Ethiopia will not cave in to aggression of any kind,” he said. “Ethiopians have never kneeled to obey their enemies, but to respect their friends. We won’t do it today and in the future.”

Threats of any kind over the issue were “misguided, unproductive and clear violations of international law”.

image copyrightReuters
image captionSudan is worried too – the Blue and White Niles meet in Khartoum

Why did Trump get involved?

The president was on the phone to Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu in front of reporters at the White House on Friday.

The occasion was Israel and Sudan’s decision to agree diplomatic relations in a move choreographed by the US.

The subject of the dam came up and Mr Trump and Mr Hamdok expressed hopes for a peaceful resolution to the dispute.

But Mr Trump also said “it’s a very dangerous situation because Egypt is not going to be able to live that way”.

He continued: “And I said it and I say it loud and clear – they’ll blow up that dam. And they have to do something.”

image copyrightReuters
image captionThe dam came up in a phone call with Sudan’s prime minister

What is the state of the negotiations?

Mr Abiy maintains that the negotiations have made more progress since the African Union began mediation.

But there are fears that Ethiopia’s decision to start filling the reservoir could overshadow hopes of resolving key areas, such what happens during a drought and how to resolve future disputes.

Related Topics

  • Nile

  • Sudan
  • Donald Trump
  • Egypt
  • Ethiopia

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