China has insisted it will stick to its strict zero-Covid policies, saying its extensive testing and quarantine apparatus is sufficient ahead of the 20th Communist party congress, which begins on Sunday.
Government measures, which also include lockdowns, are “the most cost effective and have worked the best for our country”, a spokesperson for the Communist party said.
He pointed to the country’s large elderly population, its uneven development across regions and its insufficient medical resources, adding that the policies would continue to improve.
“We all wish for a swift end to the pandemic,” he said. “But as things stand, it is still lingering. That is the reality.”
The congress, which will lay out Communist party policy for the next five years, is widely expected to confirm an unprecedented third term in power for President Xi Jinping. The seven members of the politburo standing committee, China’s top political decision-making group, will also be unveiled.
China’s zero-Covid-19 strategy has been one of the dominant hallmarks of Xi’s administration and has mostly succeeded in suppressing the virus, in contrast to high death tolls in the US and Europe where healthcare systems have come under immense strain.
However its economic toll rose dramatically this year due to the two-month lockdown of Shanghai, its biggest city and financial hub, and the closure of dozens of other cities.
On Thursday, leading epidemiologist Liang Wannian said there was “no timeline” for an exit from zero-Covid rules and earlier in the week the state-run People’s Daily newspaper ran a prominent defence of the strategy.
Liang added that the country now had the capacity to test 1bn people in a single day. In Beijing and other major cities, including Shanghai, authorities have tightened measures ahead of the launch of the congress and residents need to test negative every few days to enter most buildings.
Zero-Covid, in combination with a worsening property crisis, has left Beijing struggling to meet its GDP growth target of 5.5 per cent over the course of this year — even though that is its lowest in decades.
According to World Bank forecasts, China’s economic output will grow by 2.8 per cent this year, lagging the rest of Asia for the first time since 1990. In the second quarter, GDP grew just 0.4 per cent year-on-year.
International concerns about China’s aggression towards Taiwan, the self-ruled democratic nation which China claims as its territory, have mounted ahead of the congress. The party spokesperson reiterated that Xi’s administration reserves the right to use military force against Taiwan.
Additional reporting by Maiqi Ding, Gloria Li and Wang Xueqiao