Chinese people to celebrate festival despite disease impact

By Global Times staff Source:Global Times Published: 2020/1/23 0:18:40 Last Updated: 2020/1/23 15:31:05

Virus unlikely to seriously hit economy as country more experienced in disease control

Shoppers ponder auspicious decorations in the eastern Chinese city of Weifang, Shandong Province, on Wednesday, three days before the Year of the Rat. Photo: cnsphoto

 The specter of the novel coronavirus hovers over China with at least 549 confirmed cases across the country, and most provinces have reportedly had suspected cases, but due to the approach of the most important festival in Chinese tradition - Chinese New Year - many people across the nation maintained optimistic and will go ahead to celebrate the festival.  

The viral outbreak is likely to put pressure on the economy as many provinces have issued new policies and regulations to limit unnecessary group activities and market events to prevent or minimize the possibility of further infection.

But Chinese experts believe that the impact would be limited as the country has the experience in dealing with deadly virus like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome(SARS) 17 years ago, and today, with more advanced technology, the impact would be less, and the national ability to contain crisis is more mature.   

People's reaction

Despite the news of rising cases of infection, many people are calm and said they won't let the virus ruin their family reunions during the Chinese New Year national holidays.  

Over 90 percent of air travelers in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, approximately 800 kilometers from Wuhan, are seen wearing masks, as well as people in other densely-populated areas of this city.

Mask vendors can also be spotted in commercial areas, with the price of the N95 mask, which is believed to be the most effective protection gear against the coronavirus, soaring to 25 yuan for one piece from the usual 10 yuan.

Fear of the virus was mostly shared by young people, who are concerned because of the proximity of Chongqing to Wuhan. Senior citizens, on the other hand, believe there's no need to panic, and have faith in the government's ability to control the virus. "We beat SARS 17 years ago. This time, with more advanced technology and a mature system, we can also beat the new coronavirus," said Liu, a 50-year-old restaurant owner in Chongqing.

At the Yangzhou Taizhou International Airport in Jiangsu, the only province in East China that has not reported any confirmed coronavirus case as of Wednesday night, the Global Times reporter saw few people wearing masks. 

Some were talking about the novel Coronavirus by phone with their families and asking each other to take care. The Global Times reporter also saw a different reaction in cities and towns toward the Novel coronavirus-related pneumonia epidemic in the province. 

A woman, 27, surnamed Zhao said that masks have been sold out in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu, but another woman surnamed Zhou, 54, told the Global Times she is not worried as no case has been reported in the town she lives. "I am not worried, and am only trying to avoid crowded places," Zhou said.

In Hong Kong, with at least 117 suspected cases and one confirmed case as of press time, one of the impacts of the new virus is that protests and gatherings could be reduced as the protesters try to avoid crowded areas, some Hong Kong residents said.

Andy Chan, 54, a social worker in Kowloon district who delivered free medical masks to people in his community on Wednesday, said "of course many people are nervous, but at least it was good for the society to restore public order, as the violent protests and illegal gatherings will surely by reduced." 

"We can at least enjoy a peaceful Chinese New Year without troublemakers in black creating a mess around the city," Chan noted. 

Impact on economy

The outbreak will likely exert some pressure on businesses in certain areas, such as tourism, transportation, catering, lodging and retail, as many are expected to cancel trips, according to some market research reports on Wednesday.

"Compared to other crises, epidemics could have the broadest and most serious impact on the tourism sector," Guotai Junan Securities said in a research note, noting that the sub-index of tourism-related shares on the A-share market have dropped over 6 percent in the past two days.

Many across the country are cancelling trips ahead of the peak season during the Chinese New Year. As part of efforts to contain the outbreak, airlines, hotels and travel agencies are offering full refunds.

Some observers have called the outbreak a "black swan" event that could further drag down growth. Others compared the new virus to the outbreak of the SARS in 2003, which had a huge impact on the Chinese economy then.

A report by the International Air Transport Association in 2006 estimated that the 2003 SARS outbreak had cost the Chinese economy 0.1 percent of its GDP.

"Is the SARS market sentiment returning?" Yang Lingxiu, a chief overseas strategist at CITIC Securities, wrote in a note on Wednesday, listing the worsening outbreak of the new virus in Wuhan as a major risk for global markets.

But some argue that the new virus will unlikely have the same negative impact on the economy as SARS did in 2003, given the scope of the epidemic and China's ability to effectively contain the virus from further spreading.

"I don't believe in this fallacy," Mei Xinyu, a research fellow at the Ministry of Commerce's Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, said on Wednesday, noting that while certain preventive measures are necessary, life will move on and businesses will continue. 

"The bottom line is that I believe in China's ability to contain the situation and mobilize [resources] to do so," said Mei, who is a Wuhan native.


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