Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A record 4.7 million passengers took the train nationwide yesterday (pictured), the first day of the great trek home for the Lunar New Year, which this year falls on 26 January. The traditional end-of-year celebration is for many the only time to visit home. Tens of millions of migrants are expected to leave the cities for the countryside.
This year railways in Guangdong announced they could meet the ticket demands of only one third of the more than 20 million potential passengers in the province who might travel during the 40-day peak travel period. Others will have to go by bus or other means of transportation.
The number of passengers is also expected to be greater due partly to the severe snowstorm that damaged power supplies along the Beijing-Guangzhou railway last year, trapping millions of migrant workers heading home from the Pearl River Delta.
This year the weather should be better, but the Beijing-Zhuhai highway has been closed 11 times since 21 December because of ice on the road.
At the same time Health Ministry spokesman Mao Qunan said that this year food safety would be ensured by greater controls.
The country is still reeling in fact from a tainted food scandal involving melamine, a dangerous substance found in milk, eggs, chocolate, ice cream and yogurt.
This said, for most migrant workers the main concern is whether they will find a job once they come back from the holiday break.
Tens of thousands of firms have already shut down as a result of lower exports and many others could follow suit.
For this reason Civil Affairs Deputy Minister Jiang Li announced on Saturday nine billion yuan (US$ 1.3 billion) in subsidies for New Year celebrations to the 74 million people living below the poverty line.
Under the scheme urban residents will get 150 Yuan (US$ 22). People living in rural areas will get 100 (US$ 15) because of their lower cost of living. But people who joined the Communist Party before 1949 will get 180 yuan.
People living in poverty, i.e. those with an annual income below 1,067 yuan, or a little higher in cities, can also receive year-end subsidies from more than just the central government.
For example, in Jiangsu province residents living below the poverty line will each receive a 100-yuan subsidy and low-cost medical care.
This way, said Mr Jiang, the country can maintain “social stability’ and achieve “social harmony.”