Coronavirus looms over China's national legislative session - GulfToday

Coronavirus looms over China's national legislative session


In this photo shows barricades are pulled in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. AP

When China convenes its National People's Congress on Friday, will the 3,000 delegates stand shoulder to shoulder? Will they wear masks?

This year's version of China's biggest political meeting of the year will be unlike any other. Delayed from March because of the then-spiraling coronavirus outbreak, the decision to go ahead with the gathering signals a partial return to normalcy in the country where the pandemic first broke out. "Partial” being the operative word: The congress will be far from normal.


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For the ruling Communist Party and leader Xi Jinping, the holding of the congress, even in curtailed form, offers an opportunity to showcase China's success in curbing the spread of the coronavirus, while many others are still wrestling with it. But the government is taking extensive precautions to prevent any infections at the congress, a health risk and potential public relations nightmare.

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during a meeting. File photo

Shi Shusi, a Beijing-based social commentator, said that both the holding of the congress and the reopening of schools are seen as indicators of whether the epidemic in China has ended. A day ahead of the congress, an advisory body held in conjunction with it convenes Thursday. Together the annual meetings are widely referred to in China as the two sessions.

"It concerns the safety of children and government officials, which is very important in China,” Shi said. "The opening of the two sessions is to tell the world that the epidemic situation is under control.”

Classes resumed in Beijing for some grades this month, notably high school seniors who must prepare for college entrance exams, while others will follow in June. Universities remain closed until at least September.

Chinese police stand guard in front of Tiananmen Gate in Beijing. AP

Traffic congestion has returned, another sign that life is edging back toward normal in the capital. Food courts are crowded with lunchtime office workers, lining up for Chinese noodles and Korean rice bowl meals, though signs urge diners not to linger and converse.

As night falls, dance groups have resumed their get-togethers in public spaces, many following new official guidance that masks are no longer needed outdoors. Most onlookers, though, still wear them. Movie theaters remain closed, and major tourist sites require advance registration to limit the number of daily visitors.

The congress, normally a colorful affair with plenty of ceremony, will be shorter than usual, perhaps one week instead of the usual two. Some officials will speak remotely to breakout sessions of delegates by video. Participants are being tested and isolated ahead of the meetings, and news conferences will be held by video.

Associated Press

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