The corona variant BA.5 is also spreading further in China. The authorities react as they always do when infections occur: with tough measures.
Munich/Shanghai – For many months it was a kind of nightly ritual in this country that the daily corona numbers were presented in the news. Although the summer wave has the country firmly in its grip, hardly anyone is currently interested in the number of positive tests (according to the Robert Koch Institute, there were more than 160,000 new infections on July 19) – the Ukraine conflict, the gas crisis or the Heat waves seem more important. It’s completely different in China: The current Covid numbers are still presented every day in the 7 p.m. news, even though they are usually only in the three-digit range. An average of 390 new infections were counted every day in the past week, slightly more than the 340 in the week before, but still quite little from a German perspective. On Monday (July 18), the number climbed to 699.
The fact that this slight increase in China is causing concern is mainly due to the zero-Covid policy, which the country is still adamantly adhering to. The Omicron variant BA.5 has long been on the rise, but politicians are using the same toolbox to fight the pandemic as they have been for two and a half years. Every outbreak, no matter how small, must be suppressed, every infection with the corona virus pursued.
What this looks like in practice was recently observed in the city of Wugang in the central Chinese province of Henan: the approximately 320,000 residents were only allowed to leave their homes for several days in “urgent cases” after a single corona infection had been detected . Not an isolated case: The city of Zhumadian recently reacted in a similarly drastic way to two positive corona tests. Around 1.5 million people live in the city, which is southeast of Wugang.
Corona in China: around 264 million people affected by protective measures
Dozens of cities in China are currently under lockdown, the Japanese Nomura bank estimated on Monday that around 264 million people in 41 Chinese cities are subject to some form of corona protection measures – about 20 million people more than in the previous week and more than twice as many as in early July. Most recently, the more rural provinces of Gansu in the north-west of the country and Guangxi, on the border with Vietnam, were infection hotspots. A corona outbreak in Guangxi in particular recently made headlines in China because 2,000 tourists were stranded in the coastal city of Beihai there after more than 450 people tested positive within five days.
New corona infections are also still being registered in Shanghai, the country’s most economically important city. There were 23 new cases on Monday, and an average of 50 a day over the past week. From the end of March to the beginning of May, large parts of the city were under a strict lockdown, and the port city’s gross domestic product collapsed by 14 percent. For many of the almost 25 million inhabitants, the new corona cases mean that the big testing starts again. Since Tuesday, residents of nine districts have had to be tested twice within three days.
China’s economy is suffering from the corona lockdowns
The many lockdowns in China have long had a negative impact on the country’s economic figures. The Beijing Bureau of Statistics announced on Friday that economic growth in the People’s Republic increased by just 0.4 percent in the second quarter; the Chinese economy grew by 4.8 percent in the first quarter. This results in overall growth of 2.5 percent for the first half of 2022. In March, Beijing issued a growth target of 5.5 percent for the current year, which, however, can hardly be met.
On paper, there could still be a five before the decimal point at the end of the year when the economic data for 2022 are published – after all, China’s head of state and party leader Xi Jinping wants to be elected to a historic third term in autumn. Even if there is currently little evidence that the Communist Party will withdraw its allegiance from him, Xi should ensure that his uncompromising corona policy is not seen as a threat to China’s economy.
And so the country’s state media are making a success story out of the zero-Covid strategy: While inflation is rising in the USA and Europe and thousands of people are still dying of Corona every day, China not only has the pandemic under control, but also its economy. Growth of 2.5 percent in the first half of the year is not so bad after all, the Xinhua news agency recently wrote, quoting unnamed “economists and observers around the world” as saying “that China, with its solid economic foundation and its resilience remains one of the most reliable engines of growth in the world.” The numbers, however, speak a different language. (sh)
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