During the New Year holiday a few days ago, Beijing, one of the first cities in China to pass the peak of Covid infections, saw the return of the hustle and bustle. Crowds of people lined up outside restaurants in Gui Jie, the popular food street in Beijing, where many restaurants resumed 24-hour operation. The Universal Beijing Resort was packed with tourists who were excited to resume normal life and enjoy the holiday.
These are microcosms of the bustling scenes across China. During the three-day holiday, 52.71 million domestic trips were recorded in China, with a year-on-year increase of 0.44%. Life is gradually back to normal across the country. As the Chinese Lunar New Year draws near, people are busy doing Spring Festival shopping.
As we often say, what people expect is where the policy should go. Since the Covid-19 pandemic started three years ago, the Chinese government has always put people and their lives front and center. We have withstood more than 100 clusters of outbreaks and protected the life and health of 1.4 billion people to the utmost when the virus is at its most rampant and deadliest stage. China has managed to maintain the lowest rates of Covid severe cases and deaths, while people’s average life expectancy has increased from 77.3 to 78.2 years in 2021.
In response to the pandemic, China has taken a holistic approach toward disease control and economic development, adapting response measures by keeping them science-based, targeted, and responsive to the evolving situation, to minimize the impact on people’s daily life as well as overall economic and social development. China’s economy grew by an average of 5.1% in the year 2020 and 2021, one of the highest in major global economies. China also moved up six places in Human Development Index (HDI) ranking despite the decline of the global HDI for two consecutive years.
As witnessed in other parts of the world, the Omicron variant is more contagious but much less dangerous. At the same time, we did not let the crisis go wasted. Our capacity for treatment and testing has significantly improved. By launching the largest vaccination campaign, we have ensured that more than 90% of the population is fully vaccinated and over 92% receive at least one dose. According to data released at home and abroad, Chinese vaccines are safe and effective, especially in reducing the risk of serious illness and death.
It is under such conditions that China decides to refine its Covid response measures, shifting the focus from stemming infection to preventing severe cases. Such a move is not only science-based, timely and necessary, but also appropriate and responsible. It has enabled us to strike a balance between Covid control and economic and social development, restore normalcy to people’s work and life, and better meet medical and health needs.
It should come as no surprise that countries would go through a period of adaptation as they shift gears in Covid policy. China is no exception. At the moment, China’s epidemiological situation is generally stable and under control. To make the transition as smooth as possible, necessary preparations are being made. For example, We have ramped up medical production, bringing the daily production capacity of Ibuprofen and paracetamol to more than 190 million tablets.
There is also good news for the outside world, as new cross-border travel rules will take effect on January 8, 2023. Visitors to China no longer need to apply for health codes, and nucleic acid tests and mandatory quarantine upon arrival will be scrapped. These adjustments have been well-received and supported by the global community. The World Health Organization (WHO) is pleased to see China loosening some of its Covid-19 restrictions. Foreign business communities, including the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, are optimistic about China’s recovery as they see the ability to revive from hurdles is rooted in the nation’s culture.
As we speak, some EU member states have expressed their concerns and introduced travel restrictions on travelers from China. In fact, China has been sharing relevant information and data with the international community in an open, transparent and responsible manner. Over the past three years, China has carried out over 60 technical exchanges with WHO, four of which were held after the announcement of the ten new measures one month ago. China is also doing its best to share the genome data of the virus via the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID).
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control also said earlier that the introduction of mandatory Covid screenings of travelers from China are unjustified, given the fact that the variants circulating in China are already circulating in the EU, and in view of the higher population immunity in Europe. The agency concluded that a surge in cases in China is not expected to impact the Covid-19 epidemiological situation in the EU. This view is shared by health experts from many countries. Therefore, it is hoped that the Covid response measures of European countries need to be science-based and proportionate, and should not affect normal travel and people-to-people exchange and cooperation.
As the famous poem goes, if winter comes, can spring be far behind? With full confidence and capacity, China is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Looking ahead to the new year, I am confident that China will overcome the pandemic, pursue greater openness and achieve steady economic recovery, thus creating broader space for China-EU cooperation. As China’s new Ambassador to the EU, I look forward to working with my European interlocutors to follow through the leaders’ agreements and lift China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership to a new level.