For many months it was something of an evening ritual in this country for the daily Corona figures to be recited on the news. While the summer wave has the country firmly in its grip, hardly anyone is currently interested in the number of positive tests (on July 19 there were more than 160,000 new infections, according to the Robert Koch Institute) – the conflict Ukrainian, gas the crisis or the heat wave seem more important. It’s quite different in China: there, the 7 p.m. newspaper still presents the latest Covid figures every day, even if they are usually only in the three-digit range. Last week, 390 new infections were counted on average each day, slightly more than the 340 the previous week, but still quite low from the German point of view. On Monday July 18, the number rose to 699.
If this slight increase worries China, it is above all because of the zero-Covid policy to which the country is still foolproof. Omicron’s BA.5 variant has long been on the rise, but policymakers are using the same pandemic-fighting toolkit they’ve been using for two and a half years. Every outbreak, no matter how small, must be suppressed, every coronavirus infection must be tracked.
What this looks like in practice was recently observed in the city of Wugang, in central China’s Henan province: the city’s 320,000 residents were only allowed to leave their homes for several days in ” urgent cases” after the detection of a single Corona infection. This is not an isolated case: the city of Zhumadian recently reacted just as drastically to two positive Corona tests. About 1.5 million people live in the city, located southeast of Wugang.
Dozens of cities in China are currently in lockdown, with Japanese bank Nomura estimating on Monday that some 264 million people in 41 Chinese cities were under some form of Corona protective measures – around 20 million more than the previous week and more than the double as early July. More recently, the more rural provinces of Gansu in the northwest of the country and Guangxi, on the border with Vietnam, have been hotspots of infection. In particular, a Corona outbreak in Guangxi recently grabbed headlines in China as 2,000 tourists were stranded in the coastal city of Beihai after more than 450 people tested positive in five days.
Shanghai, the country’s most economically important city, is also still registering new Corona infections. There were 23 new cases on Monday and an average of 50 a day last week. From late March to early May, large parts of the city were put under strict lockdown, with the port city’s gross domestic product falling by 14%. For many of the city’s nearly 25 million residents, new Corona cases mean big testing is starting again. Since Tuesday, residents of nine neighborhoods in the city have had to get tested twice in three days.
China’s many blockages have long been reflected negatively in the country’s economic figures. On Friday, the Beijing Bureau of Statistics announced that the People’s Republic’s economic growth rose only 0.4% in the second quarter; in the first quarter, the Chinese economy grew by 4.8%. This translates into an overall growth rate of 2.5% for the first half of 2022. In March, Beijing published a growth target of 5.5% for the current year, which will however be difficult to achieve.
On paper, however, there could be a five before the comma at the end of the year when the economic data for 2022 is released – after all, Chinese head of state and party leader Xi Jinping wants to be elected. for a historic third term in office in the fall. Even though there is currently little to suggest the Communist Party will withdraw its allegiance to him, Xi is likely to ensure that his hardline Corona policies are not seen as a threat to the Chinese economy.
And so the country’s state media is turning the zero-Covid strategy into a success story: While inflation is rising in the US and Europe and thousands are still dying every day from Corona, China not only controls the pandemic, she says, but also its economy. A 2.5% growth rate in the first half of the year is not so bad, the Xinhua News Agency recently wrote, citing unnamed “economists and observers around the world”, saying that “China remains one of one of the most reliable engines of growth in the world with its economic strength and resilience, but the numbers speak a different language.
Image by Gerd Altmann