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China's optimization of COVID-19 policies

By Liu Yuanli, Ma Jing, Jinith de Silva and Harald Brüning | China Daily | Updated: 2023-02-13 07:27
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Fight against virus should not slacken, it's not gone away

Chinese tourists arrive at the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia, Jan 22, 2023. [Photo/VCG]

In traditional Chinese culture, the rabbit is regarded as the luckiest of the Chinese zodiac signs. It represents peace, longevity, prosperity, which all reasonable and sensible people look forward to.

Chinese folklore considers the rabbit, the fourth in the 12-year cycle of Chinese zodiac signs, a particularly gentle, kind, tender and particularly alert creature. All this appears to predict 2023 to be a year of hope.

I spent a part of the Spring Festival holiday in Bangkok, my first overseas trip in over three years. The trip was made possible because of the Chinese central government's decision late last year to ease its "dynamic clearing" COVID-19 prevention and control policy, doing away with the mandatory quarantine and other restrictions. The governments of the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions (SARs) quickly followed suit. The result is an extraordinarily speedy recovery of the tourism industry in China.

I noticed during my weeklong stay in Bangkok that the Thai people were very happy to welcome back large numbers of Chinese tourists (from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao), because tourism revenue is a big contributor to Thailand's GDP.

This shows that Chinese overseas tourists are a godsend to the rest of the world, Southeast Asia in particular. Some retailers and restaurateurs in Bangkok told me that they love Chinese holidaymakers for the simple reason that they are big shoppers and big eaters.

In Macao, hope helped us go through three difficult years of COVID-19 relatively unscathed, although the pandemic's impacts on the local economy were quite dire, notwithstanding the government's string of financial support for both citizens and businesses.

Thanks to the Macao government's strict anti-pandemic curbs, the SAR was globally known as an oasis in the COVID-19 desert for nearly three years. As the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus is much more infectious but less lethal than the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants, the central, Hong Kong and Macao governments took the right decision, based on scientific findings, to relax their respective pandemic curbs.

I agree with Macao-based Foreign Ministry Commissioner Liu Xianfa who recently wrote in an article that "the continuous optimisation and adjustment of China's epidemic prevention and control policies will also provide a more stable and reliable turbine to the recovery of the world economy and help the world to end the epidemic as soon as possible".

The spectacular recovery of the tourism industry in Bangkok and Macao during the Chinese New Year has proved Liu right.

However, the fight against COVID-19 must continue unabated, because the battle to effectively control the spread of the novel coronavirus will remain among medical sciences' major challenges.

This reminds me of a Chinese proverb, "holding a tree and waiting for a rabbit" (shou zhu dai tu), which can also be translated as "keeping watch at the tree awaiting a rabbit".

The proverb is about a farmer who one day saw a scared rabbit running past him before fatally crashing into a tree on his field. The farmer was happy as he had got a free dinner without having to work for it. Enjoying his rabbit stew later that day, he wondered why he should bother plowing his land as he had a tree in his field where rabbits happened to bite the dust. So he stopped toiling on his land and merely sat by the tree waiting for another rabbit to crash into it. Much to his surprise, it never happened again. He fell into poverty and became the butt of jokes for the villagers.

It's sheer imprudence to rely on luck and fail to put in the necessary effort.
Science-based tenacity and resolve are required to vanquish COVID-19. But all this will probably take many more months, or even years.

As President Xi Jinping said in a video message to medical workers and an elderly patient in a hospital in Harbin, "We have now entered a new phase of COVID-19 response. Tough challenges remain, but the light of hope is right in front of us. Perseverance means victory."

That's why the authorities must continue to take steps to eradicate COVID-19. That's also the best way of ensuring Macao's full economic recovery. Tourists must feel safe during or after their visit to the SAR. While resuming normal business activities, Macao must remain on high alert against COVID-19. Protecting people's lives also means protecting business interests, especially Macao's all-important tourism sector.

We hope virologists and epidemiologists intensify their research to stamp out COVID-19. We also hope there will soon be a pill that can protect us against the virus.

Thanks to the adjustment of COVID-19 prevention and control measures by the authorities, we could enjoy our first quarantine-free Chinese New Year vacation abroad in three years. But we also ought to remain aware that the novel coronavirus is still lurking around the corner. So let's not keep watch at the tree awaiting a rabbit to crash but work hard and remain both optimistic and realistic by staying as alert as a rabbit to protect ourselves and all those around us — and science is there to help us in this lifesaving endeavor.

Harald Brüning is the director of the Macau Post Daily.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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