Chinese premier Xi Jinping has vowed to minimize the impacts on the country’s economy from the recent resurgence of Covid-19 cases.
The president’s comments appear to suggest a move away from the longstanding strategy that has placed priority on public health but has also put the world’s second-largest economy under severe strain.
China must “strive to achieve the maximum prevention and control at the least cost, and minimize the impact of the epidemic on economic and social development,” Xi told the politburo standing committee, made up of the Communist Party’s highest ranking members.
Xi’s statement is the first time the leader has hinted at placing priority on reducing the economic impact of the pandemic, and may indicate that future public health measures will not be quite so stringent.
Chinese citizens have been placed under some of the harshest restrictions in the world since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, with authorities memorably quarantining the entire city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began.
The measures seemed to be working very well up until recently, with China having some of the lowest numbers of cases and deaths per million amongst heavily-populated countries. Following two years of daily new cases rarely making it into triple digits though, cases have started to spike again in the past few weeks, and with the caseload growing by thousands per day many are worried that stricter measures are on the way.
The measures that were so successful from a public health perspective came at a cost though, and it appears it is a bill authorities are reluctant to pay for a second time.
The Chinese leader’s comments are not the first to indicate that the nation won’t pursue its zero-Covid policy at all costs. Vice Premier Liu He recently stressed the need to consider economic development when implementing virus controls.
Concerns over the resurgence of virus cases drove massive sell-offs of Chinese stocks earlier this week, with investors fearing a resumption of business-crippling health measures. Recent rhetoric from Beijing could well be aimed at easing those fears and stemming the flow of money out of the country.