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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- China has taken the step of asking millions of migrant workers to forgo their annual Lunar New Year trip home, saying the worst winter weather in 50 years is expected to pummel the country for at least another three days.
"For the sake of their safety, and relieving the stress on transport, I advise migrant workers to stay in the cities where they work," Zheng Guogang, chief of the China Meteorological Administration, told the state newspaper, China Daily.
The trip is often the only bright spot for workers who toil all year long in factories far from home. For an estimated 178 million people -- the size of the combined population of Italy, France and Britain -- the annual trek is sometimes the only opportunity to see family that they leave behind. This year, the holiday begins February 6.
So far, Chinese authorities have managed to persuade nearly 470,000 people to abandon their travel plans and accept a refund for their train tickets.
The weather has paralyzed transportation, frozen the power grid, killed at least 63 people and delivered a $4.5 billion blow to the economy.
By late Wednesday, 12 national highways across six provinces remained impassable in areas. In Guangzhou -- a city in the south -- about 800,000 people remained stranded unable to take either bus or train, local media said.