China’s road to recovery post-zero-COVID in 2023

What can we expect as China enters 2023 with the rest of the world in living with the virus?

China’s road to recovery post-zero-COVID in 2023
People wait with their luggages at a railway station, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China January 1, 2023. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

China recently pivoted swiftly away from its longstanding zero-COVID stance by easing restrictions, with plans to reopen the border and allow international travel to resume. But, even before these rules changed, there was already an uptick in COVID cases across the country. Now, as the country moves towards reopening, hospitals and funeral homes are trying to deal with the surge.

So, what can we expect as China enters 2023 with the rest of the world in living with the virus?

Well, even with COVID's rapid spread, New Year's Eve saw celebrations and gatherings across the mainland for the first time in years as people looked optimistically toward the future.

According to UK-based health intelligence firm Airfinity, China's COVID infections should first peak on January 13 at 3.7 million daily infections. The next week, beginning on January 21, is China's biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year. Travel jumps during this holiday, and the railway network expects 5.5 million passengers, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

As life returns to something normal, there's hope that China's economy will start recovering from its slump last year. The government is already promoting domestic consumption and foreign investment for 2023.

Zhao Chenxin, deputy chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), explained in a People's Daily interview: "Inadequate overall demand is the main factor holding back the economy. We must make the recovery and expansion of consumption a priority, and use government investment and incentives to drive up social investment. We will also keep track of economic performance in a timely manner, improve policy reserves, and continuously enrich the policy toolbox to deal with unexpected shocks."

But Zhao also said that the pandemic is still affecting economic recovery. Because China's economy has been a little uncertain, people are being more cautious with their money, so consumption has a way to go. And, as the National Bureau of Statistics said, "The epidemic has had a great impact on the production and demand of enterprises, the attendance of personnel, and logistics and distribution."

On New Year's Eve, President Xi made a televised speech, saying: "We have now entered a new phase of COVID response where tough challenges remain. Everyone is holding on with great fortitude, and the light of hope is right in front of us. Let's make an extra effort to pull through, as perseverance and solidarity mean victory."