China Zero-Covid: 100,000 officials attend emergency State Council meeting to revive economy

The State Council’s unexpected video conference call was attended by provincial, city and council-level officials, according to a report by the state-owned Global Times. Senior Chinese officials were also present, including Premier Li Keqiang, who urged the authorities to take measures to preserve jobs and reduce unemployment.

Li said the economic impact seen in March and April surpassed in some aspects that of 2020 during the first coronavirus outbreak, according to the Global Times. He pointed to several indicators including unemployment rates, lower industrial production and freight transportation.

The PM has been increasingly vocal about the economic slowdown in recent weeks, calling the situation “complex and serious” in early May – but Wednesday’s comments may paint the bleakest picture yet.

The conference call comes after an executive meeting of the State Council on Monday, at which the authorities unveiled 33 new economic measures, including increasing tax rebates, extending loans to small businesses and providing emergency loans to the hard-hit airline industry, according to state-run Xinhua News Agency .

Some of the 33 guidelines are also relaxing Covid curbs – like lifting restrictions on trucks driving out of low-risk areas.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Li urged government agencies to implement these 33 measures by the end of May. The State Council will deploy task forces in 12 provinces starting Thursday to oversee the introduction of these policies, it added, according to Xinhua.

Throughout the pandemic, China has maintained a strict zero-Covid policy aimed at stamping out all chains of transmission through border controls, mandatory quarantines, mass testing and quick lockdowns.

However, that strategy has been challenged by the highly contagious Omicron variant that emerged across the country earlier this year, despite efforts by authorities to lock down districts and provincial borders.

As of mid-May, more than 30 cities were in full or partial lockdown, affecting up to 220 million people nationwide, according to CNN calculations. For industries ranging from big tech to consumer goods, this is destroying both supply and demand.

Although some of these cities have since reopened, the impact of this disruption is still being felt as unemployment has risen to the highest level since the coronavirus first broke out in early 2020.

Many companies had to shut down operations, including automakers Tesla and Volkswagen. Airbnb is the latest multinational to pull out, with the home-sharing company announcing last week that it was closing its offerings in China.

And a number of investment banks have lowered their forecasts for China’s full-year growth in recent weeks. The International Monetary Fund lowered its growth forecast for China to 4.4% from 4.8% in April, citing risks from Beijing’s strict zero-Covid policy. This is well below China’s official forecast of around 5.5%.

There is no clear end to the crisis in sight as authorities are still struggling to contain the spread of the virus and leaders insist on pushing zero-Covid.

On Monday, seven districts, affecting nearly 14 million residents, were placed under partial lockdown in the nation’s capital, Beijing — where cases have also been creeping in in recent weeks. The city’s two largest districts, Chaoyang and Haidian, were included – forcing the closure of all non-essential businesses, including malls, gyms and entertainment venues.

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