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Coronavirus and China — stress test for the state and society

Coronavirus and China — stress test for the state and society

The extraordinary measures of the PRC leadership taken in connection with the spread of coronavirus mobilized the whole of Chinese society. Doctors volunteer for business trips to Wuhan and other foci of disease, local drivers in Wuhan transport doctors and nurses between their homes and hospitals for free, volunteers help monitor quarantine in residential complexes. In social networks, the media publishes words of support for the sick and everyone who is struggling with the spread of coronavirus. The fight against infection has become a people's war.

As part of tough measures to prevent the spread of the epidemic, local authorities imposed unprecedented restrictions on the movement of the population. A number of first-tier cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, have suspended some types of public transport. Control points are created that constrain the incoming and outgoing flows of the population. Quarantine all over China closes schools, universities, kindergartens, non-critical industries.

These emergency measures may seem reinsurance in the context of a relatively small number of cases in relation to the total population of the PRC and relatively low mortality. Moreover, now the cases of recovery have exceeded fatal outcomes, and this gap is widening.

The apparent disproportionate scale of the disease and countermeasures served as the basis for the search for hidden causes of the heightened reaction of the Chinese authorities. Conspiracy theological hypotheses appear with many complexes, non-obvious and confusing assumptions. Moreover, the measures taken by the authorities lead to a slowdown in economic growth, and here there is a temptation to find a connection with the trade conflict between China and the United States, with geopolitical contradictions of powers, etc.

However, we will not multiply entities beyond measure.

The new virus is different from the already known ones, and so far there is no vaccine against it. Mortality from it is higher than from influenza, but the main thing is the uncertainty as to how its effect changes during transmission from person to person. It is likely that the mortal danger of mutations will increase over time, if not now, then with a new outbreak of disease. So it was with the Spanish virus (SC18), which, thanks to two mutations, turned into a deadly disease and caused the death of about 100 million people on Earth. Nor can the story of the 2009 H1N1 flu epidemic be recognized as normal when 50 million Americans were infected and 10,000 died. The US health care system was apparently not ready for an epidemic then.

The memory of the Spanish epidemic, assumptions about its possible origin from Asia, the high population density in China, as well as the natural and climatic features of East Asia and the presence of wild animals that can become a source of epidemics, are sufficient grounds for emergency measures.

Now American and Chinese scientists indicate the need to monitor the most famous of the modern types of flu — bird flu H5N1. The appearance of the same mutations as in the Spanish woman can lead to even more serious consequences since the spread of the virus can take several days. Each new outbreak of such viral diseases may turn out to be the second Spanish woman in its consequences.

And the spread of coronavirus in China shows how this can happen. Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak of the virus, is the administrative center of Hubei Province in central China. This is the most densely populated region and one of the most important transport hubs in the country. In addition, the spread of the 2019-nCoV virus coincided with the Chinese Lunar New Year, when passenger traffic in all directions in China increases simultaneously to tens of millions of people who travel on long holidays to relatives in other cities and villages, on tourist routes, go on vacation outside the PRC. Any comparison of Chinese measures with a possible more calm reaction of other countries in such a situation is unacceptable.

The situation in China with opposition to the coronavirus has shown, on the whole, the trouble-free operation of the state machine and the high organization of the population in the implementation of the recommendations and orders of the authorities. Zhang Shuhua, director of the Institute of Political Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, writes: “The national system of China is able to overcome the restrictions of various departments, agencies, and local bureaucracy ... Within this system, China can concentrate on fulfilling the main tasks ... and effectively deal with any emergency “. Confirmation of this was the construction in Wuhan in a 10-day period of the hospital Huoshenshan (Mountain of the God of Fire) for 1000 places for those infected with the coronavirus.

At the same time, the organization of quarantine measures revealed problems in public administration, gaps in legislation, and imperfection of law enforcement practice. Now the authorities are studying these data in detail.

The other day, President Xi Jinping paid special attention to maintaining social stability, preventing the illegal increase in prices for medicines and essential goods, as well as countering the spread of panic rumors. There have been times when people hid their travel history to Wuhan or Hubei Province, avoided quarantine measures and infected others. Normative acts have now been adopted, according to which the refusal to cooperate in such situations is considered criminally punishable.

It is already clear that the emergency situation with coronavirus will have negative consequences for the economy of China. According to forecasts of Chinese experts, the GDP growth rate in the first quarter of this year will decrease to 5%; quarantine will affect a number of industries and the service sector. There are fears that investors, not wanting to suffer losses from downtime during the quarantine period, will begin the withdrawal of capital from China. However, the Chinese government expects to make up for the economic slowdown in the first quarter with accelerated growth in the next three quarters of the year. For this, the People’s Bank of China, the Ministry of Finance and a number of other departments plan to provide the necessary liquidity in the domestic market and maintain the stability of foreign currency interest rates through countercyclical regulation.

The monetary authorities will establish a special re-lending fund of 300 billion yuan ($43 billion) for large national and some provincial banks. The authorities are encouraging financial institutions to lower lending rates in order to increase medium and long-term lending and to help in soft loans to small businesses and micro-enterprises.

To date, a number of major cities in China have announced a deferment of payments for social security and lower interest rates on loans for affected enterprises. A series of measures have also been announced to support small and medium-sized enterprises, including exemption from rental fees, support for credit lines and subsidies for research and development.

Another problem with the economy is the acute shortage of labor in the cities of the first level. Millions of migrant workers who went to their hometowns for the New Year holidays were blocked there due to quarantine measures. It is not yet clear how many of the 288 million internal migrants (this is a third of China's total labor force) remain in this position. The problem of labor shortages is likely to worsen in major Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. According to data released on February 4 by the Beijing Transport Authority, of the 10 million people who left the capital ahead of the Spring Festival (Lunar New Year), 8 million have still not returned.

Experts believe that the continuing shortage of labor can block investment in infrastructure projects, and these are the main engines of economic growth in large cities. At the same time, the main manufacturing industries are probably not affected by this problem.

China gratefully acknowledges the diverse assistance and support of individual countries in the fight against the spread of coronavirus.

They also paid attention to cynical comments by senior officials of the US administration that the PRC has become a spread of the virus, that the epidemic in China is creating additional jobs in the United States.

Amid the unprecedented openness of the Chinese authorities and their extraordinary efforts to eradicate the disease, it remains to express support for friendly China and confidence in its victory over a dangerous disease.

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