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China back to ‘normal’, says vice-premier

China back to ‘normal’, says vice-premier

DAVOS: China has returned to normal after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, Vice Premier Liu He told the World Economic Forum yesterday (Jan 17) as he invited “international friends” to visit the country.

ChineseCOVID-19politicsVaccinetourism
By AFP

Wednesday 18 January 2023, 11:07AM


Liu He delivers an upbeat pitch at Davos, inviting ‘international friends’ to visit. Photo: AFP

Liu He delivers an upbeat pitch at Davos, inviting ‘international friends’ to visit. Photo: AFP

China abruptly dropped its “zero-COVID” approach last month after three years of enforcing some of the harshest anti-pandemic restrictions in the world.

The move led to a wave of infections that packed hospitals and overwhelmed crematoriums, with authorities revealing Saturday that almost 60,000 COVID-related deaths were reported in just over a month.

But Liu told the meeting of the global elite in the Swiss Alpine village of Davos that the transition “has overall been stable and smooth”.

“The time to reach the peak (of infections) and to return to normal has been relatively fast. In some senses, it has exceeded our expectations,” he said.

Liu said the food and beverage industry and tourism had started to return to normal, with five billion trips expected during China’s Lunar New Year holiday that begins this weekend.

“Things have comprehensively returned to normal,” he said.

“Currently the main difficulty is still the elderly, those with underlying conditions,” he said, adding: “We are currently striving to tackle this.”

Millions of the elderly in China are not fully vaccinated, with President Xi Jinping’s government criticised for not prioritising immunisation campaigns among the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

Liu also encouraged foreigners to visit China after quarantine requirements for overseas arrivals were dropped last week.

“We very much welcome international friends to come to China. We will provide the best service. Of course, right now, on some issues we need some time to transition, but on the whole, there is already no problem,” he said.

Population shrink

Liu’s comments came after official data yesterday showed China’s population shrank last year for the first time in more than six decades as the world’s most populous nation faces a looming demographic crisis.

The nation of 1.4 billion has seen birth rates plunge to record lows as its workforce ages, in a rapid decline that analysts warn could stymie economic growth and pile pressure on strained public coffers.

The population stood at around 1,411,750,000 at the end of 2022, Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported yesterday, a decrease of 850,000 from the end of the previous year.

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The number of births was 9.56 million, the NBS said, while the number of deaths was 10.41mn.

The last time China’s population declined was in 1960, as the country battled the worst famine in its modern history, caused by the disastrous Mao Zedong agricultural policy known as the Great Leap Forward.

China ended its strict “one-child policy” - imposed in the 1980s owing to fears of overpopulation - in 2016 and began allowing couples to have three children in 2021.

But that has failed to reverse the demographic decline.

Many point to the soaring cost of living - as well as a growing number of women in the workforce and seeking higher education - as being behind the slowdown.

Chinese people are also “getting used to the small family because of the decades-long one-child policy”, Xiujian Peng, a researcher at Australia’s University of Victoria, told AFP.

“The Chinese government has to find effective policies to encourage birth, otherwise, fertility will slip even lower,” she added.

Many local authorities have already launched measures to encourage couples to have children.

The southern megacity of Shenzhen, for example, now offers a birth bonus and allowances paid until the child is three years old.

A couple who has their first baby will automatically receive 3,000 yuan ($444), an amount that rises to 10,000 yuan for their third.

In the country’s east, the city of Jinan has since Jan 1 paid a monthly stipend of 600 yuan for couples that have a second child.

Independent demographer He Yafu also points to “the decline in the number of women of childbearing age, which fell by five million per year between 2016 and 2021” - a consequence of the ageing of the population.

“A declining and ageing population will be a real concern for China,” Peng said.

“It will have a profound impact on China’s economy from the present through to 2100.”

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