Coronavirus: Xi Jinping tells China to stay on guard as country seeks to restart economy

Jun Mai

Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned people to remain on guard against the spread of Covid-19 by silent carriers and from overseas as the country tries to get its economy going again.

“[We] must specifically strengthen our work to manage asymptomatic cases and impose suitable precautionary measures on all areas of business recovery and social life,” he told the provincial party committee of Zhejiang, state news agency Xinhua reported.

“[We] must see restricting imported cases as the most important measure for the time being and maybe for a long period … [we] shall have no loopholes.”

Xi’s warning came after some of the most draconian lockdown measures were lifted as part of efforts to get the world’s second largest economy back on track.

The authorities last week lifted traffic controls in most parts of Hubei, the province that was worst hit by the Covid-19 outbreak. The lockdown of Wuhan city, which was the epicentre, will see its traffic restrictions lifted next week.

But the threat from imported cases continues to cast a shadow over these efforts, and last week the authorities banned almost all foreign nationals from entering the country.

There are also concerns about people who carry the disease without displaying any symptoms, and on Wednesday the National Health Commission started listing the number of such cases.

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These asymptomatic cases are recorded separately from other positive tests, with 130 of the former being confirmed in the previous 24 hours along with 1,367 that were under medical observation.

Mainland China also reported 36 other new cases, all but one of which were imported.

Xi’s tour of Zhejiang, one of the country’s main economic powerhouses, was described by Beijing-based commentator Zhang Lifan as an effort to send a message that the epidemic was nearly over.

“Zhejiang is among the best performing provincial economies and he may hope it will lead the nationwide effort to restart business,” he said.

Footage of a visit to the city of Ningbo showed that Xi removed his face mask in parts of a port inspection. The president and other members of his entourage also went mask-free in other open-air spots, although they kept them on indoors.

Zhang said this was an “obvious signal that the outbreak is close to an end and people should get back to work”.

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Xi said China should speed up the pace at which it gets back to business and closely monitor trends in the global economy.

The continued spread of the disease across the world’s most advanced economies threatens to undermine China’s own efforts to regain momentum, and this week Ma Jun, a prominent adviser to China’s central bank, suggested that the government drop a specific growth target for 2020, citing uncertainties from the European and American economies.

Xi has said China is still committed to its “economic and social development goals” and grand vision of building a “comprehensively well-off society” by the end of the year.

Hitting this target would mean China’s gross domestic product has doubled over the past 10 years and analysts calculate it will need growth of at least 5.6 per cent this year.

Xi’s visit signals the urgency he feels about getting China’s economy back on track, said Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

“He’s obviously showing signs of impatience and he chose a province heavily reliant on exports to do so,” said Wu. “But it remains to be seen if the stimulus packages in the pipeline will end up benefiting the exporters.”

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