Hundreds of millions of people will head home across China for family reunions over the Lunar New Year , in what is the world’s largest annual human migration. About 3 billion trips were expected to be made during this year’s Spring Festival travel season, known as chunyun, Zhao Chenxin, deputy secretary general and spokesman of the National Development and Reform Commission, said on Thursday. The 40-day period runs from Friday until February 18, with January 25 marking the beginning of the Year of the Rat. While state media on Thursday reported that investigators had identified a new type of coronavirus as the pathogen behind an outbreak of 59 pneumonia cases in the central city of Wuhan, the transport ministry told travellers it was prepared. Wang Yang, the ministry’s chief engineer, said: “Arrangements have been made to focus on disinfection monitoring and protection measures in areas with a large number of passengers, including transport hubs, passenger stations and cargo hub factories.” China’s railways are expected to carry 440 million passengers during the holiday period, a year-on-year increase of 32.6 million, or 8 per cent, according to the State Council. Wuhan coronavirus: Asia battens down for Lunar New Year rush The rapid expansion of China’s transport system, particularly its railways, has completely changed the way the world’s largest population moves. With China adding 139,000km (86,400 miles) of rail and building 35,000km for its high-speed rail network – the largest in the world – travel times have fallen substantially for many Chinese who now no longer face slow, uncomfortable journeys home to more remote areas. The fastest running time from Zhangjiakou, a city in northern Hebei province about 200km from China’s capital, to Beijing was cut from more three hours to 47 minutes after the high-speed Beijing-Zhangjiakou intercity railway went into service last month. What was once a nine-hour train ride from Hohhot, the capital of northern Inner Mongolia autonomous region, to Beijing now takes a little more than two hours. Beginning this year, online booking means e-tickets will cover high-speed and intercity rail, so passengers will not need to collect paper tickets before their trip, Li Wenxin, deputy general manager of China National Railway Corporation, said on Thursday. The online rail ticketing system’s hours will also be extended by 30 minutes each day of the holiday travel season from 6am to 11.30pm, and purchases may be verified by facial recognition. China’s high-speed rail makes it a fierce economic competitor Self-service identity verification machines had been set up at high-speed rail stations and other train stops with large passenger flow to ease congestion, Li said. More than 17,000 flights are expected to take to the skies each day, a rise of 13.3 per cent from a year earlier, according to Wan Xiangdong, chief flight officer of China’s Civil Aviation Administration. It was not clear if this figure was for domestics flights alone. About 790,000 coaches with a combined capacity of 20.3 million passengers, and 19,000 ships equipped to carry about 830,000 passengers were expected to pick up part of the traffic, said Wang, the transport ministry’s chief engineer. “Ten years ago, you’d go to the railway in Guangzhou and it’d be packed solid with people for days on end trying to squeeze on trains,” said Geoffrey Crothall, communications director at China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based workers’ rights group. Although the travel process was smoother these days, Crothall said many migrant workers had to work through the festivities because they could not afford to return home. He also said that more migrant workers were living closer to home. A report by the National Bureau of Statistics last year showed that of the 173 million who left their homes to take jobs elsewhere in 2018, 810,000 fewer migrated to another province. The report also said 1.6 million migrant workers returned to their home provinces to work. “This sort of traditional picture of migrant workers from small villages in Sichuan or Henan getting on the train in Guangzhou and travelling thousands of kilometres back home over a day or two, it’s not really what happens any more,” Crothall said. “Those same villagers are more likely to have found a job in a provincial capital … or even closer to home, so they don’t need to travel these vast distances any more.” Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.