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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 January, 2004, 11:08 GMT
China gears up for New Year
A masked cyclist passes lunar new year decorations in Beijing
Checks are in place to try and prevent the spread of Sars
China's Premier Wen Jiabao has vowed to push forward reforms in the Year of the Monkey, as China prepares to see in the new year on Thursday.

In a speech to mark the lunar new year, Mr Wen hailed 2003 as "vital for the advancement of the nation" and he pledged to focus attention on employment and education in 2004.

He was speaking at the Great Hall of the People in front of an audience that included President Hu Jintao and the former leader, Jiang Zemin.

Mr Wen also highlighted China's first manned space mission and what he called its success in fighting the Sars virus, as achievements of 2003.

He was speaking as millions of his compatriots began the great new year trek home.

The government has estimated that 1.89 billion journeys will be made on the Chinese mainland during the new year, or "Spring Festival" season, which takes place over the next two weeks.

Congestion

Fears about a return of the Sars virus are having their effect as travellers pack trains, planes and buses.

Three more cases have been diagnosed in recent weeks and the authorities say they are determined to prevent any further spread.

"No effort should be spared in guarding against the spread of the disease," said a health ministry official.

Body temperature checks are in place at a number at airports and stations and anyone with a fever over 38 Celsius (100.5 Fahrenheit), is not allowed to travel.

Traffic accidents are always a major hazard at this time of year, with overcrowding on roads as migrant workers head home across the country.

The growing economy has added to the congestion because so many more people can now afford to travel for the break

Added to the crowded roads has been the problem of simply getting a ticket for other forms of travel.

Train fares from Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai have risen by 20% in recent days and there has been a surge in arrests of people counterfeiting tickets.

"It is almost meaningless to say China's transportation network does not have the capacity to handle the volume of travellers at this time of year," the state-run China Daily newspaper said.

"No system can comfortably accommodate such a surge in human traffic."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Louisa Lim
"The annual migration across China gets ever larger"



SEE ALSO:
In Pictures: Lunar New Year festivities
20 Jan 04  |  Photo Gallery


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