May 21, 2020 9:30 pm
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Categories: China Communist Party of China Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Economic Conditions and Trends Li Keqiang National People's Congress (China) NY Times Politics and Government Xi Jinping

BEIJING — Parting with years of precedent, China abandoned its growth target for 2020, in an acknowledgment that restarting its economy after the coronavirus outbreak will be a slow and difficult process.

In his annual report to lawmakers meeting Friday in Beijing, Premier Li Keqiang said that the country has made major achievements in its response to the coronavirus epidemic and that economic development was a top priority. But he did not set a target for economic growth for the year.

“At present, the epidemic has not yet come to an end, while the tasks we face in promoting development are immense,” Mr. Li said. “We must redouble our efforts to minimize the losses resulting from the virus.”

Mr. Li’s work report, delivered at the opening of the annual meeting of the legislature, the National People’s Congress, also provided no details on Beijing’s plans to impose stringent new security legislation on Hong Kong in the coming months. China’s leadership disclosed those plans on Thursday night, and further details are scheduled for release after Mr. Li’s speech.

The two key policy moves at the congress — retreating from a once sacrosanct growth target while pressing an offensive to subdue the opposition in Hong Kong — suggested that even as China acknowledged the cost of the pandemic, the government is determined to show it will not be politically cowed by the crisis.

The annual congress, which usually convenes in early March for about two weeks, had been delayed and shortened to a week this year because of the coronavirus crisis. Even in ordinary times, the meeting is as much symbolism as substance — a party-controlled vehicle to acclaim and approve laws and budgets by nearly 3,000 delegates in neat rows under the vast ceiling of the Great Hall of the People.

This year, though, the symbolism matters more than usual. Xi Jinping, the top leader, has been trying to project confidence and absolute control as the government tries to revive the economy, restart schools and businesses and claim credit for largely ending the epidemic that spread from Wuhan in central China from late last year.

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By this week, the coronavirus outbreak had infected more than 89,000 people in China, including over 4,600 who died from the virus. Delegates, most of whom were wearing masks, opened the session with a moment of silence for the victims of the outbreak.

The unusual arrangements for the congress meeting this year reflect continued worries that China has not totally contained the outbreak. Most journalists have practically no access to the Great Hall, where the congress meets, and must instead follow proceedings and join news conferences over video links.

Delegates have been required to undergo nucleic acid tests for the virus before they are even allowed to travel to Beijing. Hong Kong delegates were required to travel across the border to Shenzhen in mainland China so as to follow a standardized testing procedure.

On the agenda are proposals to improve the country’s disease surveillance system and hospitals, after the coronavirus outbreak exposed systematic failings. Investors are also looking to the meeting — which will approve a long-delayed budget for 2020 — to offer a clear sense of direction in the economy.

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  • Frequently Asked Questions andvice

    Updated May 20, 2020

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has alsoded chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?

      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., hasvised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give youvice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.

Mr. Li’s budget proposal calls for an economic stimulus program equal to about 2 percent of the country’s economic output last year. That is much smaller than the extra deficit spending being incurred in most industrialized countries.

China’s central government budget deficit was only around 3 percent last year. But the country is still struggling with a massive increase in debt incurred in 2009 during the global financial crisis and in 2016 during a currency and stock market crisis. That has made China’s leaders leery of borrowing a lot more money now to hand out checks to the public the way governments in the United States, Hong Kong and elsewhere have done.

Mr. Li announced instead a series of small measures that are likely to be popular but will have a modest cost.

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