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In China, life returning to normal as coronavirus outbreak slows

Chongqing, China – “Look! What a big fish!” Ding Shijiu exclaimed in joy after catching a carp from the lake where he normally goes fishing. Sitting under a tree full of spring blossoms on a warm day, Ding is finally able to catch up with old friends over a few fishing sessions – something he…

In China, life returning to normal as coronavirus outbreak slows

Chongqing, China – “Look! What a big fish!” Ding Shijiu exclaimed in joy after catching a carp from the lake where he normally goes fishing.
Sitting under a tree full of spring blossoms on a warm day, Ding is finally able to catch up with old friends over a few fishing sessions – something he has been unable to do since the coronavirus pandemic started to sweep across China in January, prompting a major lockdown of cities and provinces across the country.
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“The last two months felt surreal and, trust me, I’m almost 70 years old, and I’ve seen a lot of things,” Yang said while pointing at his friends, unable to contain his excitement of seeing them again.
“But we’re all still alive, and I’m just so happy that the worst has passed.
“This is the first time I came back fishing at this lake since Lunar New Year – I’m very happy,” Yang said with a smile, before trying to reel in another fish.
Like many people in China, Yang has spent nearly all of the last two months at home as the central government imposed unprecedented quarantine measures across the country in a drastic bid to contain COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. The central province of Hubei and its capital Wuhan, where the virus was thought to have originated, were completely sealed off.
As the number of COVID-19 cases confirmed overseas daily have surpassed those within China, the draconian measures that appear to have quelled the outbreak domestically – particularly outside Hubei – are gradually being relaxed.
Chongqing, Yang’s hometown bordering Hubei, has had more than 500 confirmed cases since the disease started to spill into the municipality. But now, there have been no cases in the city for several days.
The slowdown is not only in Chongqing. Across the country, 13 out of 34 provinces in China have cleared their remaining cases, and approximately 69,000 of 81,000 confirmed cases have been discharged.
Pressure easing
Even in Hubei, where some 10,000 cases remain, the pressure on front-line medical workers has eased. On March 17, the first batch of nearly 4,000 medical workers who were parachuted into Wuhan to help control the outbreak were able to leave.
With so many provinces having downgraded their emergency response levels, China is slowly – and cautiously – returning to normal life.

Classes are gradually resuming after most students spent the last month or so at home and studying online. In provinces classified as “low risk of infection,” including Guizhou, Qinghai, Tibet and Xinjiang, local governments have allowed educational institutions to resume classes this month.
“I couldn’t really focus while taking courses online, and I can’t afford to waste any more time because the college entrance examination is in a few months,” said Ouyang Yanjiang, a student in Guiyang, referring to the highly competitive national exam that determines which college students can attend. “I’m glad that we are going back to school.”
Meanwhile, factories that were ordered to suspend operations are also starting to pick up their assembly lines after what many small business owners who spoke to Al Jazeera described as something akin to a “near-death experience” for their companies.
According to the latest report released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, in January and February, the peak of the outbreak in the country, the industrial output of the world’s second-largest economy plummeted to the lowest point since 1998, and the unemployment rate soared to more than 6 percent, the highest on record.
The suspension has pushed many businesses to near-bankruptcy, but as the quarantine measures have been loosened, many are preparing for a rebound in production.
Cities that have a high density of manufacturing industry, including Guangzhou and Shenzhen in the south, are organising their employees’ return to work and pushing for the resumption of long-suspended business.
For example, the production line of Woniu, a Guangzhou-based kitchenware factory, came to a halt on January 20 – the day the government confirmed human transmission of the virus.
The head of the factory told Al Jazeera that, with their income near zero for the last two months, they had been on the brink of closing down the facility for good. But on March 9, their proposal to reopen was accepted by the government, and they are now back in business.
“It’s still high pressure to just break even, but at least we are now back to work,” Liu Lufei told Al Jazeera over a chat session on Taobao, the online shopping site under Alibaba. “Dear God, that was a difficult time.”
The harsh toll the outbreak took on people’s lives also appears to be easing.
Chengdu, famous for its hotpots and foodie culture, now has only a dozen cases remaining and the provincial government has said no new ones have been detected over the past three weeks.

That has allowed a gradual reopening of restaurants, although people remain cautious.
In videos shared online, restaurant patrons line up in front of the city’s many hotpot restaurants – wearing masks and keeping a safe distance from each other.
During the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, residents of Chengdu told Al Jazeera that the first thing they planned to do when the emergency ended was to go to a restaurant, “eating hotpots with friends and family”.
For a city whose soul is “hotpot flavoured”, as some playfully describe it, the reopening of Chengdu’s hotpot restaurants gives residents an almost unparalleled reassurance that the worst of the outbreak has indeed passed.
“We are only allowed to accept 50 percent of our restaurant’s maximum capacity for dine-in guests, and that’s the rule for all restaurants in Sichuan (the surrounding province),” Xiao Ma, a waiter at Shudaxia, a famous hotpot restaurant in Chengdu, said. “But in the last few days, we have been hitting that line almost non-stop.”
“People’s taste buds have been pent up for too long,” Ma jokingly said.
Travel gradually being allowed
Apart from dining out, people are also gradually regaining their ability to travel. Many provinces and cities have steadily resumed their public transportation, including inter-provincial long-distance buses that were suspended across the country days after Wuhan was sealed off on January 23.
Even in Hubei, the provincial epidemic prevention and control command has allowed “low and middle risk” areas, such as Xianning and Yichang, to begin operating public transport again.

News coverage of the outbreak has also eased. In late January and February, it was difficult to turn on a television or use a mobile phone without constantly being exposed to news about the coronavirus – but with the epicentre shifting to Europe, many entertainment shows are reappearing on Chinese TV.
“Now I’m able to watch something on TV that is not about coronavirus, and that was unimaginable last month,” Zeng Yunru, a Wuhan resident, said. “It’s funny that all of us seemed to have forgotten what our life was like before the virus.”
Barbershops reopening, parks welcoming tourists again, migrant workers making their way back to their jobs – the calamity that disrupted China’s society so completely seems to be receding steadily.
As life begins to return to normalcy, however, experts worry that there is still an underlying risk. There are worries that as soon as the expansive quarantine measures are lifted, China will be a hit by a second wave of infection, especially as the coronavirus is now a global pandemic and imported cases outnumber local ones.
China reported only one new domestic coronavirus case on Monday, in Hubei. Twenty other cases were of travellers arriving from overseas.
“I don’t think anyone is saying the outbreak is over – only the worst seems to be over,” Zeng said when asked about her concerns. “What we can do is still exercising social distancing and slowly driving our lives back to normal.”
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China still spying on U.S. coronavirus vaccine efforts, Wray tells Congress

Chinese hackers are still trying to snoop on American coronavirus vaccine efforts, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress on Thursday, saying they can actually track the attempts. Mr. Wray said they’ll see a public announcement from a company on its vaccine progress, then within days they’ll see cyber penetration efforts against that company “that ties…

China still spying on U.S. coronavirus vaccine efforts, Wray tells Congress

Chinese hackers are still trying to snoop on American coronavirus vaccine efforts, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress on Thursday, saying they can actually track the attempts.

Mr. Wray said they’ll see a public announcement from a company on its vaccine progress, then within days they’ll see cyber penetration efforts against that company “that ties back to Chinese actors.”

“They’re trying to essentially jump to the front of the line by stealing information from others,” Mr. Wray said.

He declared China the largest counterterrorism focus of the FBI, and pointed to thousands of open investigations into Chinese attempts to penetrate American institutions.

Mr. Wray first warned in early summer that China was attempting to compromise U.S. coronavirus efforts.

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China attempted to cover up scope of COVID-19, could have largely prevented outbreak: GOP report

China could have prevented two-thirds of its coronavirus cases before the end of February had it followed international health guidelines at the beginning of the outbreak in Wuhan, a new congressional report concluded. The report, released Monday and authored by Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, echoes earlier findings that China made efforts…

China attempted to cover up scope of COVID-19, could have largely prevented outbreak: GOP report

China could have prevented two-thirds of its coronavirus cases before the end of February had it followed international health guidelines at the beginning of the outbreak in Wuhan, a new congressional report concluded.

The report, released Monday and authored by Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, echoes earlier findings that China made efforts to cover up the severity of the initial spread of the virus and that the government harassed and detained journalists, scientists and health care professionals who were voicing concerns about its handling of the outbreak.

“It is beyond doubt that the [Chinese Communist Party] actively engaged in a cover-up designed to obfuscate data, hide relevant public health information, and suppress doctors and journalists who attempted to warn the world,” the report said. “Research shows the CCP could have reduced the number of cases in China by up to 95 percent had it fulfilled its obligations under international law and responded to the outbreak in a manner consistent with best practices.”

The report also said that the Chinese government was “legally obliged” on Dec. 27 to inform the World Health Organization that the outbreak in Wuhan may constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Jan. 30.

The report’s conclusions take aim at the WHO, from which President Trump announced a U.S. withdrawal in May, and said that the United Nations-backed organization was “heavily influenced by the Chinese Communist Party” in its messaging of the outbreak.

“The WHO has been complicit in the spread and normalization of CCP propaganda and disinformation,” the report stated, citing outside experts. “By repeating as truth statements that were misleading, if not lies, the WHO negatively impacted the global response.”

Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican and ranking member of the Democrat-led committee, said in a statement Monday that “it is crystal-clear that had the CCP been transparent, and had the head of the WHO cared more about global health than appeasing the CCP, lives could have been spared and widespread economic devastation could have been mitigated.”

There have been over 31 million reported cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. More than 961,000 people have died from the virus, with 199,525 deaths in the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. The global population currently stands at 7.8 billion.

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China slams US ‘bullying’, warns of action over TikTok, WeChat |NationalTribune.com

China has accused the United States of “bullying” and threatened to take “necessary” countermeasures after Washington banned downloads of the Chinese video-sharing app TikTok and effectively blocked the use of the messaging super-app WeChat. “China urges the US to abandon bullying, cease its wrongful actions and earnestly maintain fair and transparent international rules and order,”…

China slams US ‘bullying’, warns of action over TikTok, WeChat |NationalTribune.com

China has accused the United States of “bullying” and threatened to take “necessary” countermeasures after Washington banned downloads of the Chinese video-sharing app TikTok and effectively blocked the use of the messaging super-app WeChat.
“China urges the US to abandon bullying, cease its wrongful actions and earnestly maintain fair and transparent international rules and order,” the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on Saturday.
“If the US insists on going its own way, China will take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies.”
The United States Commerce Department announced the bans on Friday, citing national security grounds although China and the companies have denied US user data is collected for spying
Under Friday’s order, the Tencent-owned WeChat app would lose functionality in the US from Sunday onwards. TikTok users will be banned from installing updates but could keep accessing the service through November 12.
The timeframe gives TikTok’s parent group ByteDance some breathing space to clinch an agreement over the fate of its US operations.
“We disagree with the decision from the Commerce Department, and are disappointed that it stands to block new app downloads from Sunday and ban use of the TikTok app in the US from November 12,” ByteDance said in a statement.
“We will continue to challenge the unjust executive order.”

START HERE | Should TikTok be banned? (10:50)

TikTok says it has 100 million US users and 700 million globally.
‘Very very popular’
Friday’s order follows weeks of deal-making over TikTok, with US President Donald Trump pressuring ByteDance to sell TikTok’s US operations to a domestic company to satisfy Washington’s concerns over TikTok’s data collection and related issues.
California tech giant Oracle recently struck a deal with TikTok along those lines, although details remain foggy.
Trump said on Friday said he was open to a deal, noting that “we have some great options and maybe we can keep a lot of people happy,” suggesting that even Microsoft, which said its TikTok bid had been rejected, might continue to be involved, as well as Oracle and Walmart.
Trump noted that TikTok was “very, very popular,” said “we have to have the total security from China,” and added that “we can do a combination of both”.
The bans are in response to a pair of executive orders issued by Trump on August 6 that gave the Commerce Department 45 days to determine what transactions to block from the apps he deemed pose a national security threat. That deadline expires on Sunday.
The Trump administration has ramped up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from US digital networks amid escalating tensions with Beijing on a range of issues from trade and human rights to the battle for tech supremacy.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the Commerce Department’s order “violates the First Amendment rights of people in the United States by restricting their ability to communicate and conduct important transactions on the two social media platforms”.

INSIDE STORY | Why does Trump want to ban Tiktok? (24:11)

The action against WeChat, used by over 1 billion people worldwide, bars the transfer of funds or processing of payments to or from people in the US through it. Users could also start to experience significantly slower service or sporadic outages from Sunday night.
WeChat developer Tencent Holdings’ called the order “unfortunate” but said it “will continue to discuss with the government and other stakeholders in the US ways to achieve a long-term solution”.
WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the US, analytics firms Apptopia said in early August. It is popular among Chinese students, ex-pats and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.
The order does not ban US companies from doing businesses on WeChat outside the US, which will be welcome news to US firms such as Walmart and Starbucks that use WeChat’s embedded ‘mini-app’ programmes to facilitate transactions and engage consumers in China, officials said.
The order will not bar transactions with Tencent’s other businesses, including its online gaming operations, and will not prohibit Apple, Google or others from offering TikTok or WeChat apps anywhere outside the US.
WeChat users have sued to stop the ban, and a federal judge in California on Friday set an emergency hearing for Saturday at 1:30 pm Pacific time.
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