China prepares for national congress as doubts swirl over pandemic safety

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China is convening its biggest political gathering of the year and US President Donald Trump has said he is considering meeting world leaders in June, as doubts simmer over how safe is safe enough with the pandemic still not under control.

From meatpacking plants in Colorado to garment factories in Bangladesh, workers are concerned about risks they face as they return to work after shutdowns.

The safety questions apply even at the highest levels of the political spectrum.

Mr Trump tweeted that having leaders of the G7 fly in next month for a summit at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland would be a “great sign to all” of things returning to normal.

Global coronavirus cases and deaths
(PA Graphics)

The District of Columbia remains under stay-at-home orders at least until June 8, though Maryland began relaxing the restrictions last week.

At the same time, leaders of the G7 member nations are in some cases still grappling with the virus in their own countries or in various states of reopening their economies.

Mr Trump’s proposal for meeting around the original date of June 10-12 drew an ambiguous response from Japan, where the chief government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said he viewed the tweet as “an expression of the President’s intention to normalise the global economy quickly”.

China’s communist leadership is taking extensive precautions to prevent any infections as it opens its National People’s Congress on Friday and a parallel meeting of advisers on Thursday.

The meetings in Beijing were delayed for nearly two months due to the pandemic.

Coronavirus outbreak
A foreign journalist is tested in Beijing (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

An outbreak at the congress would be a potential public relations nightmare as President Xi Jinping showcases Beijing’s apparent success in curbing the coronavirus that emerged in the central city of Wuhan late last year.

Around the world, the effort to get back to business is raising worries over risks.

About five million people worldwide have been confirmed infected, and more than 328,000 deaths have been recorded. That includes more than 93,000 in the US and about 165,000 in Europe, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, based on government data.

Experts believe the true toll is significantly higher.

With the virus far from vanquished, reopenings from pandemic shutdowns could prove to be a stop-and-start, two-steps-forward-one-step-back process.

Virus outbreak
A policeman in Tiananmen Square ahead of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing (Wu Hong/Pool/AP)

A major focus for the congress will be reviving growth that fell to its weakest since at least the mid-1960s in the first quarter.

Companies and the public are looking to the largely ceremonial meeting for details on how Beijing might tackle the downturn.

The party’s ultimate goal is to persuade consumers, millions of whom have lost jobs or worry they might, to spend again.

One way to do that is by example: the meeting in Beijing sent a signal that was not missed by Chinese who have endured weeks, and in many cases months, of lockdowns.

Zhou Yu, a Beijing bank employee, said he was reassured because the meetings show the epidemic is under control.

“We resumed work in March, and almost all of us are back to work now,” said Zhou. He and his clients wear masks when they meet.

“Because we all pay attention to the precautions and disinfect working areas every day, there’s nothing to worry about,” he said.

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