Railway staff sacrifice Spring Festival for passengers' journey home
Xia Ruixue, Kong Mingwei

At 8:30 in the morning, Hou Dongyao starts his busy day working in Zhengzhou East Railway Station in Zhengzhou, capital city of central China's Henan Province. As a shift supervisor, Hou begins with the morning roll call and work assignment.

Roughly half an hour later, he rushes to the waiting rooms upstairs to meet his wife, who just got off her shift.

It's the only moment during the day that the couple could meet. And the time they share together is barely enough to exchange a few words and tell each other to take care.

"Before COVID-19, both of us were so busy during the Spring Festival that we could only meet once a week sometimes. Everything was discussed in brief phone calls," recalled Guo Shengnan, Hou's wife.

"It's time for us to balance our work and our family. We cherish the little time," Hou said.

The Spring Festival travel rush, or Chunyun, is known as the world's largest annual human migration. Billions of trips were made every year over the course of 40 days before the pandemic struck in early 2020.

It was the busiest time of the year for Hou and his wife. Every winter during the past 10 years, they'd devote most of their time to patrolling the waiting rooms and platforms, answering passengers' questions and guiding them off and on the trains.

This year, when the travel rush started, Zhengzhou was dealing with a new COVID-19 outbreak, which posed great challenges for the railway staff and services.

"Before the pandemic, 200,000 passenger trips were made in a day sometimes through our railway station. But this year, the number is 60 percent less due to the outbreak. But we've still got a lot of work to do as the prevention and control measures are tightened," Hou said.

Epidemic prevention and control measures have become the norm when entering Chunyun since the pandemic began. Health codes and masks are essential when people take public transportation back home.

Disinfecting public venues, checking body temperature, and reminding people of wearing face masks and keeping a safe social distance have become routine work for the railway staff members. They have also prepared contingency plans for any emergency.

Yu Yang, a chief conductor of the Zhengzhou Railway Bureau, said "once we get the news that there is a passenger on the train whose nucleic acid test result is positive, we will give them a brand new N95 face mask," adding that immediate measures would be taken to "contain the spread of the virus until the train stops at the next station."

The Spring Festival is the most important traditional holiday for Chinese people. Most people travel home for family gatherings and reunion dinners despite the distance.

Hou's wife said she also wanted to spend the special day with her family members. But she felt it's her mission to ensure others have a smooth journey home.

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