Also in this week’s issue

News roundup

  • Wuhan’s lockdown came to an end on Wednesday when residents with green codes on their smartphone health tracking apps were allowed to leave the city for the first time since January 23. The day before the authorities said in their daily report there were no new coronavirus deaths, the first time they had reported no new fatalities since daily figures were first published in January. China had 32 new coronavirus cases on Monday, down from 39 a day earlier, the National Health Commission added. All of the cases were people newly arrived in China.
  • At least 55,000 people were expected to leave Wuhan on the first day in which freedom of movement was regained, the Global Times said, with the largest group heading to the Pearl River Delta to work at manufacturing plants. But the reaction to the end of the lockdown was cautious among other provincial governments, with Zhejiang saying that anyone arriving from Wuhan would need to take a virus test after arriving there. The focus is on screening for asymptomatic infections, Zhejiang officials said. Henan province has also announced that people coming from Wuhan will need to take tests.
  • The country came to a standstill on Saturday with three minutes of mourning for the more than 3,300 people killed by Covid-19 in China. President Xi Jinping led a ceremony in Beijing on Tomb-Sweeping Day, when families typically visit their ancestors’ graves. Newspapers were printed only in black and white, and many social media users made the same colour changes to their profiles. Tencent and NetEase, the two biggest gaming companies, both shut down their servers for 24 hours.
  • Large numbers of people gathered at tourists sites around the country last weekend, despite warnings from health bosses about the risks of further waves of infection. For instance, photos in the state media showed huge crowds at Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain, in Anhui province, with the park reaching its 20,000 person daily capacity before 8am on Saturday. The Anhui government had been offering free entry to 29 sites, including Huangshan, to boost visitor numbers. Tourist trips over the three-day break were still down more than 60% on last year, according to China Tourism Academy, a state-linked think-tank.
  • Further afield there was more controversy about China’s reporting of infection rates, including a social media spat triggered by a spokesman for the Iranian health ministry, who had described the Chinese coronavirus numbers as “a bitter joke”. China’s ambassador in Tehran responded quickly on Twitter, demanding that the spokesman “respect the facts and the great efforts of the Chinese people” before Iran’s foreign ministry intervened in a bid to defuse the row. The education minister in the Brazilian government also clashed with the Chinese ambassador in Brasilia after claiming that China has been profiting from the pandemic by selling respirators and other medical supplies to the highest bidder (see page 11). These “completely absurd and despicable declarations, with a racist nature and unspeakable objectives” were damaging to bilateral relations, the Chinese embassy warned.
  • $20 billion The sum said to have been requested by the US military in Asia to counter China’s rising influence in the South China Sea. The package is expected to cover a missile defence shield for Guam, long-range missile systems to protect Taiwan, joint exercises in the region and other equipment for friends and allies.
  • 58,999 The number of Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications filed by China in 2019, displacing the US as the world’s top filer for patent protection internationally for the first time. Huawei as an individual filer topped the global rankings with 4,411 PCT applications.
  • 50 million The number of retail orders that Pinduoduo has processed per day since mid-March, up 60% on the year. Trip.com also recorded a 50% surge in travel bookings and a 60% rise in hotel reservations during the three-day Tomb-Sweeping Festival through to April 6.
  • 11.5% The decline in China’s light vehicle production this year to around 21.6 million units, says IHS Markit, citing the extended shutdown of auto plants in March and the disruptions to the supply chain. The research firm expects production to rebound by about 7.5% next year.

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