A worker operates at the factory of Chang'an Automobile in Dingzhou, north China's Hebei Province, Feb. 16, 2020. (Photo: Xinhua)
As the coronavirus epidemic remains a challenge in parts of China, indicators concerning the outbreak and a recent shift in government priorities suggest the world's second-largest economy is ready to reignite its engine full steam ahead after a multi-week standstill.
Other than Hubei Province, the epicenter of the outbreak where strict measures remain crucial, the remainder of the country should stop unnecessarily tough measures restricting economic activities and instead help businesses and factories resume operations.
Official data revealed that while the number of confirmed cases continues to rise on Saturday, the majority are from Hubei, with many provinces reporting zero new cases. Of the 2,009 new cases reported on Saturday, 1,843, or roughly 92 percent were from Hubei.
Saturday was also the 12th consecutive day that experienced a decrease in new cases nationwide. Five provinces did not report any new cases, while another six had only reported one each.
Such encouraging signs arrive after officials permitted factories and businesses to resume operations and employees to return to work, fueling concerns that human interaction would make the epidemic worse.
Since the end of Chinese New Year holidays and through Friday, as many as 283 million trips were made on the country's transport network, according to official data.
On February 14, almost 30 percent of the nation's workforce returned to major cities after the extended holidays, according to CITIC Securities. The percentages were lower than from previous years but are significant in the context of the declining number of domestic cases outside of Hubei Province.
If proper preventative measures are taken, resuming economic activities might not be as frightening as some have suggested. In fact, there has been no major infection reported so far at factories and businesses that resumed operations last week.
Also, the epidemic is no longer the biggest obstacle for economic activities to resume, whereas overreaction and unnecessarily strict measures implemented by local officials have become more significant challenges.
Many factories and businesses tried to resume operations last week but encountered various challenges. Several businesses reported shortages in cash, supplies, and labor. Others complained about the nightmarish logistics under the nationwide near lockdown. Such problems are effects from the unprecedented laser-focused campaign China has waged against the epidemic - under which everything else was secondary, including the economy.
However, we have already witnessed signs from top leaders that things will change. During two key meetings last week, the Standing Committee of the Central Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, leaders stressed the need to resume economic activities, while continuing the battle against the virus. Central government agencies have also followed up with fiscal and other concrete measures to help companies get back on their feet.
Such actions suggest China is ready, in terms of public security and policy priority, to open for business.
The virus might cause further casualties, but the economy is directly linked to livelihoods of 1.4 billion people. China cannot afford to wait until COVID-19 is wiped out before it resumes business operations.