BEIJING -- Millions of travellers criss-crossed China as the Labor Day holiday got underway Saturday, packing out tourist sites, thronging restaurants and visiting family as the vast country edges towards life after COVID.
The world's second largest economy is expecting some 265 million journeys by road, train or boat during the five-day holiday, a transport ministry official said this week -- numbers last seen in 2019 before the coronavirus struck.
Hundreds of day trippers packed out the walkway along the top of the Great Wall at Badaling, some 60 kilometers from downtown Beijing, with many not wearing masks.
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Ahead of the holiday on Friday, passengers thronged train stations across the country, with queues stretching across crowded departure halls.
Although China's economy has bounced back from the coronavirus-induced slowdown of last year, consumer activity has lagged behind the stronger rebound seen in the industrial production.
But retail sales have since picked up, surging 34.2% on-year in March and painting a more optimistic picture of consumption demand.
Key cities such as capital city Beijing, as well as Shanghai and Guangzhou, are expected to see greater demand this Labor Day holiday, said the transport official Li Huaqiang.
"The number of people would have basically returned to levels seen in the same period in 2019," he added.
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But Chinese authorities sounded a cautious note ahead of the break, warning that tourist attractions should impose restrictions on visitor numbers and have ticketing systems to control the flow of people.
Travellers will also need to register at attractions and show their "health codes" -- an electronic certificate on their phones to prove they are not at risk of infecting others.
While the coronavirus outbreak has been largely brought under control in China, fresh outbreaks at the start of the year prompted authorities to urge migrant workers to stay home over the Lunar New Year.