Beijing returns to work amid Covid curbs
May 05 2022 11:06 PM
A worker sits on bags of rice as he waits to transport the goods at a farmer’s market in Beijing on
(Representative photo)

Reuters/ Beijing

Beijing residents tentatively returned to work yesterday after a muted five-day Labour Day holiday devoid of the usual trips across the country or lavish family dinners, as China pledged to fight any criticism of its uncompromising “zero-Covid” policy.
 The long break is usually one of the most lucrative times of the year for restaurants, hotels and other businesses in China. This year, travellers spent 43% less than in 2021, data showed on Thursday.
It was the latest sign of the pain caused by Covid curbs imposed on dozens of major population centres across the country, including the strict city-wide lockdown the commercial hub of Shanghai has endured for more than a month. Authorities in Beijing, which has already closed restaurants and gyms and other public venues and locked down some residential buildings, want to avoid going down a similar path.
The capital’s streets were less hectic than on a normal working day as officials encouraged people to work from home and scores of bus and subway routes were closed. “Right now, I feel relatively safe at work and where I live, but I don’t dare to run around outside because I still feel the outbreak hasn’t reached its peak,” said cook Liu Wentao.
Beijing is doing better two weeks into its outbreak than Shanghai did at that point, when daily cases were in the hundreds and rising.
But China’s attempts to eliminate Covid, at odds with the rest of the world which is opening up and trying to live with the disease, have prompted rare public criticism at home. “Shanghai has fallen,” Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of the state-backed nationalist tabloid Global Times, said on the Twitter-like Weibo. Beijing has to either find less costly ways of tackling its outbreak or “to tell the whole Chinese society the truth” that disruptive consequences cannot be avoided, he said. “The former requires wisdom, the latter courage.”
The post was swiftly removed. Hu did not respond to a Reuters request for comment sent to his Weibo account. Following a meeting of the country’s highest decision-making body, state television reported that China “will resolutely fight any comments and actions that distort, doubt and repudiate our country’s anti-epidemic policies”. Relaxing Covid controls would lead to large-scale infections, state television said. It was not clear if the comments were related to Hu’s post, although many Weibo users drew a link.
The policy taken by China, where the virus was first identified in the city of Wuhan in late 2019, threatens its official growth target of around 5.5% this year and reverberations across the global economy and trade. Global supply chains are heavily reliant on Chinese manufacturers, whose workers are often not allowed to leave their locked-down homes. Large international consumer brands have invested heavily in China in recent years to penetrate a market abundant in voracious spenders.
The European Chamber of Commerce in China said EU firms were increasingly looking to move their investments to other markets. Chinese markets have stabilised recently around two-year lows, but investor sentiment is increasingly running on hopes for policy support from the central bank and other regulators. China argues its Covid policy is saving lives, which makes the heavy economic and psychological costs of lockdowns worth it, though top officials have pledged to help businesses ride the storm.
A Shanghai official said that authorities had found it difficult to strike the correct balance between curbing infections and allowing firms to resume operations. “Some companies have reported ... that the standards for resuming work are somewhat high,” said Zhang Hongtao, of the city’s economy and information technology commission.

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