Chinese Communist Party paper praises Covid Zero again, dashing easing hopes

Local authorities are under pressure to get Covid-19 flareups under control ahead of the Chinese Communist Party Congress. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - The Chinese Communist Party's flagship newspaper endorsed the country's Covid Zero policy for the second day in a row, dousing hopes that President Xi Jinping will relax controls soon after a key political meeting starting later this week.

Covid Zero is "sustainable" and the country must stick to the policy because it's key to stabilising the economy and protecting lives, the People's Daily said in a commentary Tuesday.

It follows a similar article Monday labelling the policy as "scientific and effective".

"Only when the epidemic is under control can the economy be stable, people's lives be peaceful, and economic and social development be stable and healthy," Tuesday's commentary said.

"A relaxation of virus prevention and control will inevitably increase the risk of infection among vulnerable people.

"Once a large-scale Covid rebound is formed, the spread of the epidemic will inevitably have a serious impact on economic and social development, and the final cost will be higher and the loss will be greater."

The commentaries come as many residents, as well as international investors and executives hope China may opt to abandon or relax its strict Covid Zero policy as almost three years of controls - marked by harsh lockdowns and frequent testing - have seriously disrupted everyday lives and dealt a heavy blow to the world's second-largest economy.

Despite all the efforts, the virus remains far from under control. The country reported 1,878 cases for Sunday, the highest since Aug 20, as the week-long National Day holiday saw cases flare among returning travellers.

Shanghai posted 28 new local infections for Tuesday, with one case found outside its quarantine system.

The uptick has seen neighbourhoods locked down and buildings barricaded with the green fences that were a feature of the financial hub's extended shutdown earlier this year.

The districts of Putuo and Changning have closed entertainment venues, while some places in Minhang have been designated as "medium risk", meaning residents are restricted from leaving their compounds.

Shanghai is rolling out mandatory mass testing again - with residents needing to be tested at least twice weekly through early November.

Anyone travelling to the city will need a negative Covid-19 result within 24 hours of arriving and have to do three tests in three days.

Local authorities are under pressure to get Covid-19 flareups under control as the Party Congress, where Mr Xi is expected to secure a precedent-breaking third term in power, is due to start in days.

The latest People's Daily commentary said Covid Zero, officially dubbed "dynamic zero clearing", has "balanced the relationship between epidemic prevention and control and economic and social development", enabling China to achieve the maximum effect "at the minimum cost".

Echoing concerns that have been frequently cited by Chinese officials and some health experts, the articles noted that China is a large country with a population of more than 1.4 billion, with unbalanced regional development and insufficient medical resources.

"It is precisely because of the dynamic zero clearing that we have ensured the extremely low morbidity, mortality and hospitalisation rates, as well as the stable operation of the society and economy," it said, adding that the existing policy remains the best option for China for the moment.

The newspaper also called for vigilance against "excessive epidemic prevention", saying officials must endeavour to improve "scientific and targeted" measures while the "one-size-fits-all" approach must be eliminated. BLOOMBERG

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