Covid-19: With the New Year holidays, China plunges into the unknown


According to horoscopes, the Year of the Rabbit is synonymous with calm and harmony. Nothing else will be needed after such a tumultuous Year of the Tiger. With tears in his eyes, Hu shows us the photos of his son treasured on his mobile phone. Sitting on a large bundle, wrapped in a khaki parka, he is about to board a train to Wuhan. “I haven’t seen my boy for three years, he was only 6 at the time, he explains, holding back tears. Due to Covid, I was not allowed to travel, so I am very happy to be able to go home and celebrate the New Year with the family. » At Beijingxi, one of Beijing’s three train stations, crowds pour into the great hall. There is no need to scan a QR code or present a PCR test, only the mask remains mandatory for travel.

Hu is one of 30 million “mingongs,” these migrant workers who come from the countryside to work on construction sites in big cities. “We weren’t even allowed to leave our bedroom after work, explain. Sometimes we had to remain shut up in our rooms for several days; sometimes you had to work long hours to catch up. I had several pay cuts and for the New Year, we weren’t even paid bonuses like usual. » Hu lives in a small town two hours’ drive from Wuhan. The city that registered the first case of Covid at the end of 2019 has become, like all of China, the page of confinements. “In my village, I don’t really know what the situation is, he worries I only know that my mother is sick, that’s also why I’m in a hurry to go home, I’m bringing her medicine. »

Risk of new epidemic

This spring festival is synonymous with the biggest transhumance in the world. More than 2 billion trips will be made in China alone this month alone, according to the Ministry of Transport’s forecast, twice as many as last year and only 70% of 2019’s level. But this festive month could turn the tide epidemic that has affected China since the lifting of health restrictions at the beginning of December, like a real tsunami, sweeping through all the rural areas where nearly 500 million people live. “Due to this large migration during the holidays, all areas – including the most remote – will be affected, thus prolonging the current epidemic wave”, said Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong.

Rarely, in a series of video messages broadcast on Wednesday, President Xi Jinping himself expressed concern. “I am particularly concerned about rural areas and our peasant friends, of whom there are many. Conditions of access to quality medical care in rural areas are relatively limited, epidemic prevention and control measures are difficult to implement there, and therefore the task is difficult., he confessed

Fears for rural areas

Even in normal times, health services in rural areas are inadequate, with half as many intensive care beds per capita as in urban centers, and severely understaffed. Although officially the rural population is younger on average, in practice young people like Hu work in big cities, leaving behind villages full of old people and small children. This population is under-vaccinated, partly because many live in hard-to-reach areas and partly because of vaccine skepticism. So you are much more at risk of dying from Covid-19.

Cases could peak at 4.8 million a day

According to a study by Peking University, about 900 million people had been infected with the virus on January 11, or 64% of the population. Proof that the topic is sensitive, this study has been removed from the websites. British analytics firm Airfinity has updated its forecast of cases and deaths from holiday travel. “Our analytical indicators suggest that the virus has spread more rapidly in rural areas, partly due to people traveling for Chinese New Year celebrations”, he wrote in his latest report. According to her, the death toll could rise from 25,000 per day to 36,000 per day on January 26! “According to our projections, cases could peak at 4.8 million per day with 62 million infections expected over the fortnight, January 13-27, before beginning to decline.”

Away from the official speeches

This killing spree could delay hopes of reviving the rural economy, one of the communist regime’s priorities. In his speech on December 24, Xi Jinping again called on young people to do so revitalize the field. Until the 1990s, the government could forcibly send teachers, nurses and doctors to remote areas. But with a record unemployment rate among urban youth this year at 20%, the countryside no longer attracts anyone and Covid risks leaving them permanently on the sidelines of the Chinese economic miracle.

A far cry from Vice President Liu He’s upbeat speeches this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos: “The speed at which the peak was reached and the speed at which it returned to normal was relatively fast, slightly exceeding our expectations.” Two months before the annual meetings of the Chinese Parliament, which traditionally mark the political return to school in March, the government will first want to focus on recovery. Xi Jinping will officially begin his third term in March with a new Politburo, a new Prime Minister and a reshuffled government. Stimulus programs, major construction policies, restructuring of the real estate sector and support for consumption are expected, and many analysts are already counting on a strong recovery of the Chinese economy from the second quarter. “We expect consumption to pick up, especially after this wave of Covid passes, thanks to the release of excess savings and the improvement of the labor market”, said Wang Tao, chief economist for China at UBS bank.

Source : Le JDD
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