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Chinese leaders pledge to support economy as COVID spreads

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  • Leaders pledge to boost economy after long lockdowns
  • But waves of infection cloud near-term growth prospects
  • Beijing dropped many anti-virus curbs last week
  • Millions of people will travel across the country for the Lunar New Year
  • China stockpiles ventilators, medicine and tests for rural areas

BEIJING, Dec 16 (Reuters) – President Xi Jinping and his top officials have pledged to bolster China’s ailing economy next year as the deaths of two veteran state journalists shine a light on worsening of the spread of COVID-19 in the capital Beijing.

Xi and his leaders ended their two-day Central Economic Work Conference with a call, via state media, to Accelerate political adjustments and strengthen coordination to support an economy that analysts say has grown just 3% this year – its worst performance in nearly half a century.

The meeting comes days after leaders scrapped some of the world’s toughest anti-COVID restrictions and lockdowns that had been championed by Xi but disrupted the economy and sparked popular protests unprecedented in his reign. a decade.

China will strengthen comprehensive coordination of epidemic policies, ensuring a smooth “transition” during the current epidemic and social order, state media reported in their conference report.

“We must first insist on stability next year as we strive for progress,” the official newspaper said.

This ‘transition’ to a ‘year of stability’ began with spikes in virus infection in Beijing and growing fears that COVID could sweep through China’s 1.4 billion people as people take advantage of the easing of travel restrictions during next month’s Lunar New Year.

State media reported on Friday that two veteran Chinese state media journalists died after contracting COVID-19 in the capital Beijing – among the first deaths reported since the government scrapped its “zero-COVID” policy. December 12. 7.

Yang Lianghua, 74, a former People’s Daily reporter, died Thursday, while Zhou Zhichun, 77, a former editor of China Youth Daily, died a week earlier, financial magazine Caixin said, citing their families.

China’s national health authority has not reported any official COVID-related deaths since the policy change. The last official deaths were reported on December 11. 3, in Shandong and Sichuan provinces.

Reports of deaths came as China laid out urgent plans on Friday to protect rural communities from the virus as millions of city dwellers plan their lunar vacations, starting Jan. 1. 22 years old, for the first time in years.

But excitement over the U-turn policy allowing them to travel has cooled amid fears that China is unprepared for the next wave of infections and the blow it could deal to the second. Mondial economy.

China reported 2,157 new symptomatic COVID-19 infections on Thursday, up from 2,000 the day before.

Official figures, however, do not show the whole picture as testing has plummeted and is at odds with signs of a wider spread in cities where queues outside fever clinics and empty shelves pharmacies are common.

Chinese National Health Commission said friday It was scaling up vaccinations and stockpiling ventilators, essential drugs and test kits in rural areas. He also advised travelers to reduce contact with elderly relatives.

A day after the White House said the United States was ready to help if requested by China, a spokesman for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Friday that Canberra “stands ready” to pursue the COVID-19 collaboration which has so far included supply. medical equipment and joint research.

Mainland China’s international borders remain largely closed, but recent decisions to drop testing before domestic travel and disable apps that track people’s travel histories have allowed people to move around the country.

In a sign of the desire for economic recovery and a sign of the country’s reopening, business magazine Caixin reported on Friday that the government is seeking to aggressively increase domestic and international flights by the end of next month.

One of China’s most populous provinces, Henan, has canceled all health personnel holidays until the end of March to ensure “a smooth transition” as COVID restrictions ease, officials reported. state media.

Several cities have also opened new vaccination sites to encourage the public to do booster shots, the official Global Times newspaper reported.

“Go all out” was the message from China’s state assets regulator in a statement that urged government-owned drugmakers to secure supplies of COVID-related drugs to meet the “rapid increase” in request.


Thanks to previously intransigent government controls, China has fared slightly compared to many other countries during the pandemic over the past three years, but now many Chinese are resigned to catching the virus.

“Everyone will have it, I guess,” a 29-year-old Beijing resident who asked to be identified by her surname Du told Reuters.

Analysts fear China is paying a price for letting the virus spread through a population that lacks ‘herd immunity’, after long periods of enforced isolation under lockdown, and has low vaccination rates among the elderly .

This has dented near-term growth prospects, although the opening should ultimately revive China’s struggling economy.

JPMorgan on Friday lowered its China growth forecast for 2022 to 2.8%, well below the country’s official target of 5.5% and would mark one of its worst performances in nearly a half-century.

China is preparing for “a painful period of transition”, analysts at the bank said, adding that they expected infections to rise after the Lunar New Year before the economy begins to recover at mid-2023.

China’s top state planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission, said “Considerable efforts” are needed support the resumption of growth due to an unfavorable external environment and the loss of dynamism of the global economy.

The Chinese yuan strengthened on Friday as traders remained bullish on the emergence of further support measures for the economy following the conference.

Reporting by Kevin Yao, Bernard Orr and Albee Zhang in Beijing, Brenda Goh and Jing Wang in Shanghai, Farah Master in Hong Kong, Stella Qiu and Kirsty Needham in Sydney and Karin Strohecker in London; Written by John Geddie and Greg Torode; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Jacqueline Wong, Nick Macfie and Tomasz Janowski

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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