Xi Jinping reaffirmed his commitment to China’s controversial zero Covid strategy, warning against “any slackening” in the effort and pledging to clamp down on criticism of the policy despite signs of damage to the economy.
The comments were carried by state media after a Thursday meeting of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo, the country’s most influential political body chaired by the president.
“Our prevention and control policies can stand the test of history, our measures are scientific and effective. We have won the battle to defend Wuhan, we can also win the battle to defend Shanghai,” the statement said.
Chinese leaders also expressed deep concern over vulnerabilities in the country’s health system, noting “great uncertainty over the course of the pandemic”.
“The relaxation will undoubtedly lead to a massive number of infections, critical cases and deaths, seriously affecting economic and social development as well as people’s lives and health,” the statement said.
The direction set by China’s top political body comes against mounting domestic and international criticism amid a series of lockdowns that have confined tens of millions of people to their homes across the country in a bid to stop the spread of the Omicron variant.
Ting Lu, Nomura’s chief China economist, noted that the political bureau “did not mention” reconciling China’s emphasis on eliminating the virus with economic growth or minimizing damage. to the economy, unlike previous meetings.
Xi’s high-profile endorsement of zero-Covid has deepened the market downturn, with global investors selling stocks on worries about the impact of future rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve.
Chinese tech stocks which are heavily exposed to domestic consumer activity were among the hardest hit, with Alibaba falling more than 7% and Tencent more than 5%.
China’s CSI 300 index of stocks listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen lost as much as 2.5%, while in Hong Kong, the benchmark Hang Seng index fell as much as 5.5%.
“Market sentiment is still fragile,” said Dickie Wong, head of research at Kingston Securities. “The pandemic, the situation in Shanghai, it’s not over yet – although the Chinese government is doing everything it can to support the national economy.”
The renminbi also lost ground, falling 0.3% to around 6.68 Rmb per dollar and leaving the currency down nearly 5% year-to-date.
The market moves came a day after April data showed China’s services sector suffered its second-worst contraction since the start of the pandemic, with lockdowns limiting movement in the world’s biggest consumer market. .
Data from Goldman Sachs showed that the proportion of cities whose neighborhoods are considered at medium to high risk of lockdown contributed about 10% of China’s gross domestic product.
Some health experts have warned that the zero-Covid approach is necessary because many Chinese hospitals are still under-resourced and the country’s large elderly population is at higher risk of serious illness as tens of millions of them do not are not vaccinated.
China has administered nearly 3.4 billion doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to its population of 1.4 billion. But the pace of inoculations has fallen to around 1.5 million doses a day over the past week, from 5 million in recent months, as health officials have been forced to divert staff and resources to campaigns. of mass testing, Goldman said.
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