Tag Archives: Hubei

Weaving The Wuhan Narrative

THE FOUR-YEAR PRISON sentence handed down to Zhang Zhan by the Shanghai Pudong New Area People’s Court on December 28 for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’ under article 293 of China’s penal code by dint of her citizen journalism on conditions in Wuhan in the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak is intended to be chilling of anyone challenging the official narrative of China’s response to the pandemic.

Beijing is not just glossing over missteps and dissembling by local officials, arguably inevitable in the ‘fog of war’ of an unfolding pandemic. It is laying out a national portrayal of a system of governance that handled a public health crisis with competence and compassion, and intended to stand in contrast to the chaos and inadequacy displayed by the United States in particular.

The death of Li Wenliang, the Wuhan doctor castigated by the local government for warning about the virus and who then died of it, allowed the government to recast a muzzled whistle-blower as a fallen hero. However, other critics of Beijing’s initial response in the press or on social media have been silenced or censored. According to Human Rights Watch, authorities have detained several activists and citizen journalists for independently reporting on the pandemic.

Perversely, the same day that Zhang was tried and convicted, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention released data suggesting that the scale of infection in Wuhan had been much greater than initially disclosed.

Extrapolating the results of a nationwide serological survey conducted by the CDC in April implies that as many as 500,000 residents of the city may have been infected. That would be tenfold the 50,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases reported by health authorities by the middle of that month, although the official count does not include asymptomatic cases.

The data also suggest that the draconian lockdown of Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province effectively limited the spread of the virus within China. In six other cities and provinces, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong, the serological survey revealed extremely low prevalences of the virus.

However, the ability to enforce a complete lockdown on a city of 11 million people and a further 47 million in the surrounding province would not be the governance competency message that Beijing might wish to promote.

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Hubei Takes A Country-Sized First-Quarter Hit

Bridge over the Yangtze River at Wuhan seen at night. Public domain. Photo credit: inthesky

IF THE FIRST-QUARTER shrinkage of China’s economy was severe at 6.8%, it was devastating in the Covid-19 pandemic’s epicentre.

Under tight lockdown, Hubei experienced a 39.2% year-on-year contraction of its provincial economy, according to the newly released official figures.

Manufacturing output was down 48.5%, unsurprisingly given that the provincial capital Wuhan (seen in the photo above) is such an industrial centre. It accounts for 10% of vehicle-making, for example, and is home to a vast supporting cast of parts manufacturers.

However, the decline in manufacturing was broad-based. Retail sales dropped 44.9%. Fixed-asset investment was down 82.8%.

Hubei is the seventh-largest provincial economy, around the same size as a country like Austria or Norway, or at least it was pre-pandemic. The loss of output in the first quarter, at $38.6 billion, is the equivalent to the annual production of a nation like Bolivia or the Ivory Coast.

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A Glimmer Of Normalcy Returns To Hubei

Rice being packaged in Dangyang, Hubei Province on March 22, 2020. Photo credit: Xinhua/Cheng Min

LOCKDOWN RESTRICTIONS IN Hubei province have started to be lifted with limited outbound travel connections being established. The same will happen for Wuhan on April 8, officials say, another indication that authorities believe the worst of the Covid-19 outbreak has passed.

The past week has brought only one new recorded case in Wuhan, which has been in quarantine since the middle of January. (Asymptomatic cases are no longer being reported in the numbers.)

Medical teams drafted into Hubei from other provinces to help combat the outbreak are starting to return home and large-scale industry to resume work. Spring planting has commenced in rural areas, and a limited number of the province’s tourist attractions are reopening, too, albeit with strict infection control measures in place.

Managing the pace of the return to some sort of normalcy will be critical to preventing a renewed wave of community transmissions of the infection.

Update: Authorities have imposed a ban on incoming travellers to the country to mitigate the risk of imported Covid-19 infections, which are now the main source of new cases.

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Shenzhen Joins Pilot For China’s Carbon Trading Market

Shenzhen has been added to the list of provinces and municipalities that will pilot China’s proposed carbon trading market. That takes the initial set to seven. The participation of Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Hubei and Guangdong has been known since the summer. An official with the National Development and Reform Commission confirmed the go-ahead with the pilot scheme to Xinhua, but otherwise details remain sketchy. Central government has still to set overall carbon discharge reduction targets, which are a prerequisite for establishing the national carbon trading market that has been pencilled in for a 2015 launch.

By then, China’s goal is to have cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 17% from 2010 levels, according to a white paper on climate change issued this week ahead of the UN’s forthcoming climate change talks in Durban in South Africa. A reduction of that magnitude will be a tough ask given the pace of the economy’s growth. The pilot carbon-trading scheme is expected to start in 2013.

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Death Toll From China’s Rains Hits 70

The death toll from rain-triggered floods and landslides in central China has risen to 70 with 32 others missing, officials now say. The National Disaster Reduction Commission says more than 21 million people across eight provinces are now affected by the unusually late and heavy summer monsoon rains deluging Sichuan, Shaanxi, Henan, Chongqing, Hubei, Shandong, Shanxi and Gansu. Direct economic damages are put at an estimated 26 billion yuan ($4 billion). Hubei, Shaanxi and Sichuan have borne the brunt of it.

In the worst incident, a landslide that buried a brick factory and partially destroyed as ceramics plant in Baqiao, a suburb of Shaanxi’s provincial capital, Xian, 27 people are now reported dead with a further five missing. Rescue teams continue to recover bodies. (Update: The final death toll has been confirmed at 32 with the recovery of the last missing body on Tuesday, four days after the landslide.)

Meanwhile, the highest flood crest so far this year on the rain-swollen Yangtze river reached the Three Gorges Dam on Wednesday morning, raising the water level to 164 meters, 20 meters above the alert level.

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Floods And Landslides Hit Hubei

According to Hubei's Office of Flood and Drought Control, the floodwaters have affected 42,000 people in the region

Torrential rains have hit part of Hubei, causing landslides and disrupting road transport. More than 40,000 people across 14 counties in the west of the province have been affected with some 300 homes in the inundated areas being damaged, officials say. One person died after a house collapsed. Another is reported missing. More heavy rain is forecast over the next couple of days, but this is also expected to bring some relief to the drought persisting in southern and southwestern China.

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Flooding Death Toll Passes 100

The death toll from the flooding along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze river has now passed 100. State media report that as of Monday morning 105 people are dead and 63 are missing since June 3 when the drought-breaking summer rains began. Hunan is worst affected with 39 dead, 19 in one mudslide, followed by Hubei with 29, Guizhou with 24 and Jiangxi at 13. Flood relief operations are now being conducted across 11 provinces, with more torrential rain expected over the next three days. The economic cost of the floods, including destroyed farmland, is put at 8.7 billion yuan ($1.3 billion).

Meanwhile, the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters say that 1.9 million hectares of farmland remain affected by drought, half the area at the peak. More than one million people are still short of drinking water, down from nearly 4 million at one point.

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Southern China’s Floods Spread, Death Toll Rises

The death toll caused by flooding in southern and central China has risen to more than 100 with at least 40 missing. The latest deaths include 25 in Hubei and 19 in Hunan, where the photograph above was taken, after waters breached river and reservoir embankments and then destroyed homes.

In all, more than 50 people are known to be dead across the four drought-hit provinces along the Yangtze that have suffered the worst flash flooding. Officials at the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters say more than 7,000 homes have been washed away and 255,000 hectares of farmland submerged. Economic losses so far are put at 5 billion yuan ($760 million).

The recent heavy rains are breaking the worst drought in 60 years in the lower and middle reaches of the Yangtze river, as they did earlier in Guizhou, where 50 are now reported to have died as the result of flooding there. Officials say that the combined economic cost of the floods and drought is 23 billion yuan. Some 617,600 hectares of farmland have been parched, with 12,600 hectares left unusable.

More heavy summer rains are in the forecast while tropical storm Sarika is expected make landfall along the Guangdong and Fujian coasts over the weekend.
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China’s Drought Now Officially Worst In 50 Years

Authorities are now describing the lingering drought in central and southern China as the worst in half a century. Water levels along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze river and its tributaries in Jiangxi, Hunan and Hubei are 10%-70% lower than average. Rainfall in the provinces has been its lowest since 1961 and 40%-60% below average.

Downstream, the Yangtze delta is home to 400 million people and 40% of the country’s economic activity. Last week, increased volumes of water were released from the Three Gorges Dam to help ease the situation and cloud seeding operations to create rain were undertaken over the weekend.

The Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters says that more than 6 million hectares of farm land, in an important grain and cotton growing region, have been left short of water, at a critical time. In Hubei, more than 1 million hectares of farmland, including 200,000 hectares planted to early season rice, are short of water, with levels in more than 1,300 reservoirs dropping below the minimum needed to discharge for irrigation. Farmers are having to pump expensively from cities. Much of the spring crop is at risk or lost. Fears rising for the summer planting season, though their is rain in the forecast and meteorologists expect normal rainfall during the rainy season in the Yangtze’s watershed.

With drought also affecting grain-growing regions of Russia, the U.S. and France, the International Grains Council has revised down its forecast for global wheat production for the growing year by 1 million tonnes. That could add pressure to world prices, and make domestic inflation even more persistent. The drought is also affecting hydroelectricity production in China, worsening the spreading power shortages in some provinces.

Update: State media report that Beijing has sent special work teams to central Hunan and Hubei to direct local drought relief work, and ordered local authorities to provide financial support for local farmers whose incomes from crops and livestock have been reduced by the drought.

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Drought Worsens In Central And Southern China

The persistent drought in Hubei, a leading grain growing province, has left a quarter of its small reservoirs unusable. Water levels are also dangerously low in the Dajjiangkou reservoir, a part of the south-to-north water diversion project and which is fed by the Han River, shown in the photograph above. More than 300,000 people in Hubei are short of drinking water, according to state media. Some 830,000 hectares of farmland have been affected. Officials also say that water levels are at record lows in the middle section of Yangtze River that passes through Hubei and neighboring Jiangxi (the Han, shown above, flows into the  Yangtze at Hubei’s provincial capital, Wuhan). Drought, caused by far lower than normal rainfall because of a La Nina in the Pacific, is also affecting Hunan, Guangdong, Yunnan, Sichuan and Guangxi.

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