Holiday exodus starts on eve of 1st COVID-19 restrictions-free Lunar New Year holiday in 3 yrs

SEOUL — South Koreans on Friday began heading to their hometowns for family reunions or taking trips on the eve of the Lunar New Year holiday, as the nation celebrates its first such holiday without social distancing restrictions since the outbreak of COVID-19 three years ago.

This year’s extended Lunar New Year holiday runs from Saturday through Tuesday. Traditionally, Koreans head back to their hometowns to be with their family members and visit their ancestors’ graves to commemorate them during the Lunar New Year holiday.

The nationwide exodus is expected to create traffic congestion on major roads, expressways railroad stations and airports throughout the four-day holiday.

The state-run Korea Transport Institute estimates that the number of holiday travelers is expected to increase 2.1 percent from last year to about 26.48 million, or a daily average of 5.3 million.

As more people want to visit their hometowns due largely to the lifting of social distancing rules, the daily average of people traveling during the holiday may increase by 22.7 percent, the institute said.

Expressways nationwide already started to see congestion Friday afternoon, while train stations, bus terminals and airports were also crowded with homecoming people and travelers.

Homecoming people, many holding gift boxes and bags, streamed steadily into Seoul Station in central Seoul from Friday morning.

Friday tickets for trains bound for Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, Pohang, Jinju, Jeonju and other major destinations were already sold out.

Kim Jin-man, a 35-year-old company worker, said he took a day off and plans to visit his hometown of Busan after failing to buy a train ticket for the holiday.

“Last year, I was able to get a train ticket for the time slot I wanted. But this year, it became difficult to get tickets. It seems we have already returned to the pre-COVID-19 days,” said Kim.

A 64-year-old man surnamed Choi, who was waiting for a train to the southeastern city of Gimhae, said he feels happy as all his family members will be together for Lunar New Year’s Day after a long time.

A 34-year-old company employee surnamed Kim, who showed up at the Seoul Express Bus Terminal in southern Seoul after failing to book a train ticket, said he definitely feels that there are more people wanting to visit their hometowns as the social distancing restrictions have completely disappeared.

Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul and other major domestic airports are also bustling with travelers, as Korea Airports Corp. expects that the number of passengers using 14 domestic airports, excluding Incheon International Airport, would reach about 1.1 million for five days from Friday.

At Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, the number of departing passengers is expected to reach 70,702 on Friday, while a total of 616,074 travelers are expected to use the airport for the coming five days.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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