China insists it will stick to zero-Covid policy

China has insisted on sticking to its strict zero-Covid policy, saying its extensive testing and quarantine apparatus is sufficient ahead of the 20th Communist Party Congress, which begins on Sunday.

Government measures, which include lockdowns, are “the most cost-effective and have worked best for our country,” a Communist Party spokesman said.

Noting the country’s large elderly population, uneven development across regions and insufficient medical resources, he added that the policy would continue to be improved.

“We all wish for a quick end to the pandemic,” he said. “But as things stand, it’s still going on. That’s the reality.”

The Congress, which will set Communist Party policy for the next five years, is widely expected to confirm an unprecedented third term for President Xi Jinping. The seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top policy-making group, are also introduced.

China’s zero-Covid-19 strategy has been one of the Xi government’s dominant hallmarks and has mostly managed to suppress the virus, in contrast to the high death tolls in the US and Europe, where health systems have come under immense strain.

However, the economic strain increased dramatically this year due to the two-month lockdown of Shanghai, its largest city and financial hub, and the closure of dozens of other cities.

On Thursday, leading epidemiologist Liang Wannian said there was “no timeline” for an exit from the zero-Covid rules, and earlier in the week the state-run People’s Daily published a prominent defense of the strategy.

Liang added that the country now has the capacity to test 1 billion people in a single day. In Beijing and other major cities, including Shanghai, authorities have tightened measures ahead of the start of Congress, and residents must test negative every few days to be allowed into most buildings.

Zero-Covid combined with a deepening housing crisis has left Beijing struggling to meet its 5.5 percent GDP growth target later this year — despite it being the lowest in decades.

According to World Bank forecasts, China’s economic output will grow by 2.8 percent this year, lagging behind the rest of Asia for the first time since 1990. In the second quarter, GDP grew by just 0.4 percent year-on-year.

International concern over China’s aggression toward Taiwan, the self-governing democratic nation that claims China as its territory, has mounted ahead of the congress. The party spokesman reiterated that the Xi government reserves the right to use military force against Taiwan.

Additional reporting by Maiqi Ding, Gloria Li and Wang Xueqiao China insists it will stick to zero-Covid policy

Adam Bradshaw

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