China to hold annual Parliament session from May 22

K J M Varma

Beijing, Apr 29 (PTI) China on Wednesday said it will hold its annual Parliament session in a 'different' way from May 22 after it was postponed for the first time due to the coronavirus outbreak, signalling that the pandemic which paralysed the country for over three months is finally under control.

The decision to hold the Parliament session from May 12 was made at a regular session of the National People's Congress' (NPC) Standing Committee, the country's top legislature.

Also, the annual session of the national advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) was expected to be held in Beijing on May 21, official media reported.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang during a media briefing said, “I think due to the pandemic the two sessions this year will be somewhat different from the past years” but declined to give details.

State-run CGTN reported that “it has not been determined” that the lawmakers will come to Beijing or attend through video links.

“It is not clear how long the two sessions will run which is normally for ten days,' the report said.

Dubbed as the annual political season, the sessions of NPC and CPPCC which together have over 5,000 members, are held every year soon after the Chinese New Year/Spring Festival holidays either in late February or early March during which the ruling Communist Party unveils its national agenda for the year, including the annual budgets and formulates new laws.

The Chinese government, in an unprecedented move, postponed the Parliament session due to the coronavirus outbreak which killed 4,633 people in the country and over 2,19,000 globally.

The two sessions were postponed as China was averse to expose thousands of its top cadre to COVID-19 which brought the country to a standstill from January 23 when Wuhan and Hubei province, the first epicentres of the virus, were put under lockdown. All provinces had virtually shut down to prevent the spread of the virus.

Hours before the announcement to hold the Parliament session, Beijing city lowered COVID-19 emergency response level from the top level to the second level, starting from Thursday. China has four-tier emergency health response system.

This means those coming from areas except coronavirus epicentre Hubei province and its capital Wuhan need not undergo 14-day quarantine if they carry digital pass from their cities.

The decision was made after the city had seen no new confirmed local or imported COVID-19 cases for 13 consecutive days, Chen Bei, deputy secretary-general of the Beijing municipal government told media.

On January 24, Beijing activated the highest level of public health emergency response to contain the coronavirus outbreak. China is yet to permit foreigners to travel to the country. China's National Health Commission (NHC) in its daily report on Wednesday said that 22 new confirmed COVID-19 infections, besides 26 new asymptomatic cases were reported in the country on Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, the overall confirmed cases in the Chinese mainland had reached 82,858, including 647 patients who were still being treated and 77,578 others discharged from hospitals.

Altogether, 4,633 people had died of the disease, it said.

Though China maintains that the disease, which first emerged in Wuhan in December and spread across the world, has now been brought under control, the country is still grappling with significant number of infections from hundreds of Chinese returning from abroad and increasing number of asymptomatic cases.

The world's second-largest economy is limping back to normalcy from last month with the virus outbreak abating, including in Wuhan.

The postponement of the NPC, which is often regarded as rubber-stamp parliament for its routine approval of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) proposals, was regarded as an unprecedented move as it rarely happened since the formation of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The two sessions would held in the ornate Great Hall of People at Tiananmen Square.

The Parliament session would be held as China is fighting back mounting calls for an international enquiry into the origin of coronavirus and allegation that the COVID-19 broke out from Wuhan Institute of Virology, the country's premier lab researching a host of viruses.

President Xi Jinping was reported to have said recently that the country must get ready for 'unprecedented external adversity and challenges in the long run over COVID-19 crisis'.

Xi's warning came amid China's 'deepest economic contraction in nearly a century', the restructuring of global supply chains and threats to Beijing's colossal multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, according to media reports.

China's GDP took the worst hit since the disastrous Cultural Revolution in 1976, plummeting by 6.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday accused China for failing to tame the coronavirus at its very origin, saying it has led to 184 countries 'going through hell'.

For its part, China is stonewalling any international enquiry, asserting that the origin of the virus is a matter of science and should be studied by scientists and professionals and such investigations into the pandemics in the past have not achieved any conclusive results. PTI KJV RS PMS AKJ PMS