Coronavirus: China begins key political event delayed by COVID-19 pandemic

21 May 2020, 11:25 | Updated: 21 May 2020, 12:51

China's president Xi Jinping held a silent tribute to victims of coronavirus at the start of the country's most important political event of the year.

The opening of the annual session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is a further sign of what the country's government has said is its victory over COVID-19, which originated in the central city of Wuhan late last year.

Rank-and-file members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) gathered in the vast auditorium inside the Great Hall of the People in the heart of Beijing, with most present wearing face masks.

However, some top officials - including President Xi and Prime Minister Le Keqiang - did not.

CPPCC chair Wang Yang said in his report to the more than 2,000 delegates in attendance that they would "tell the world about how China, as a responsible major country, has taken firm action and contributed to international cooperation in the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic".

The session is to be followed on Friday by the opening of the National People's Congress - the ceremonial parliament where the prime minister is to deliver a keynote speech outlining economic and social goals for the year.

It comes after a two month delay to the meeting, which was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic and has been shortened from two weeks to one as part of virus control measures.

Media access has also been largely reduced and only a limited number of reporters, diplomats and observers were permitted into the meeting hall on Thursday.

It also remains unclear whether Mr Li will issue the usual gross domestic product (GDP) annual growth target for the world's second-largest economy.

Given the economic devastation caused by the pandemic, the targeted GDP will likely be considerably lower than last year's 6.0% to 6.5%.

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Tens of millions of Chinese are now unemployed and it's unclear how many jobs will return after the crisis passes, following a shrinkage in the country's economy for the first time in decades.

Not only have domestic production and demand dropped, but China's key export markets such as the US and Europe have also suffered massive job losses and drops in consumption.

Despite the impact of the crisis, massive state propaganda has helped see President Xi receive plaudits at home for having contained the virus, even while the US and others question China's handling of the initial outbreak.