By Lorena Cantó
Beijing, Oct 19 (EFE).- Many people in China have been waiting for the ongoing Congress of the Communist Party of China the event hoping that, beyond its political significance the meeting could pave the way for authorities relaxing the draconian “zero-Covid” policy in place for nearly three years.
The conference has turned into a kind of “D day” for locals and foreigners residing in China who have been cut off from the outside world for three years, with life still governed by constant PCR tests and QR codes linked to health monitoring.
The Covid policy carries the personal stamp of President Xi Jinping – the head of the CPC – making it impossible to criticize it or acknowledge that the “zero-Covid” is a failed strategy, as this could have potentially weakened the leader ahead of the unprecedented third term in power that he is seeking during the Congress, according to analysts.
Days before the Congress, the CPC mouthpiece People’s Daily published an article hailing the success of the current anti-Covid policy and reiterating that it has been the “best for China” and needs to continue, pouring cold water on hopes that the event could become a point of inflection for a gradual reopening of the country.
Similarly, the head of the experts committee at the Health Commission, Liang Wannian, also warned of “great uncertainty” over virus mutations and refused to announce a reopening date, insisting that if restrictions were eased, there would be no turning back and the health system would come under great pressure.
On Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, the mood is different.
A user asked why the money spent on millions of PCR tests could not be used in improving hospitals, while another said that three years ago the authorities were not ready to admit that there was a pandemic and now they were not accepting that it was over.
The foreigners who live in the Asian country have also been fed up with the restrictions, while thousands of expatriates have left China due to the curbs on travelling and the disproportionate anti-Covid measures that govern daily life.
Foreigners’ groups on WeChat – an app similar to WhatsApp – have been abuzz with the possibility that normalcy could return after the Congress, while many members have proclaimed they would leave for good if this does not happen.
Experts are not too optimistic in this regard despite signs of restrictions easing in recent months such as the quarantine period for entering the country being shortened and an increase in issuing some types of visas. Xi also carried out his first overseas visits in over two years recently.
Consultancy Capital Economics ruled out a change in the policy in the short term, saying restrictions may not be lifted “before the end of 2023.
“If the leadership did want to transition to living with the virus, it would first have to raise the vaccination rate of China’s elderly which would take several months. There is no sign that a determined push to do so is even beginning,” it said.
As per latest official data available, as of July, 61 percent of the people above the age of 80 had received both doses of the vaccine, while around 38 percent had been administered a booster dose.
The report does not rule out possible policy changes, but only after the annual meeting of the legislature scheduled for March next year, when a government reshuffle could affect high-ranking health officials. Another factor is the annual winter flu season would also have passed by then.
On Wednesday, four days of the Congress had already passed, but the spokespersons have not mentioned the Covid policy in their daily briefings even though it is widely assumed to be part of the agenda.
The only reference to reopening was made on Tuesday, although this was with regard to the economy instead of the pandemic strategy, when an official of the main planning body – the National Development and Reform Commission – insisted that China was not being cut off from the world and reiterated that the economy would be opened further. EFE