China’s health authorities just asked cities across the country to conduct regular Covid mass testing, even in the areas with no Covid cases. 

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), China’s health official said on Thursday, September 8, that “regular Covid-19 testing should be conducted in areas that do not report any outbreak and carry out epidemic surveillance and reporting.” 

The sudden change in China’s Covid-controlled measures came before the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th National Congress that will take place in mid-October. 

Previously, low-risk areas did not have to conduct regular mass testing.

Experts warn that the regular mass testing across the country will be a heavy burden for local governments. 

The South China Morning Post cited a study from Soochow Securities estimated in May that if the 49 biggest cities in China carry out Covid mass testing for a year, the cost could be more than 1.45 trillion yuan ($208 billion). The estimated figure accounts for 1.5% of China’s 2021 gross domestic product. The number of residents in those cities is about 505 million, accounting for 35% of China’s population. 

The cost burden on Covid mass testing will be more severe when cities are not allowed to use public medical insurance funds to pay for regular testing as required by China’s health care watchdog in May. Provincial governments have to use their funds to cover the testing costs instead.

Zhao Dahai, executive director of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University-Yale Joint Center for Health Policy, told the Washington Post, “It’s pretty obvious that local governments are facing mounting fiscal pressure, with revenue falling and expenditure rising due to the recession.”

He added, “Regular testing is going to make it worse.”

According to its state-run media, the People Daily, at least 34 cities in China have been put under partial or full lockdown as of September 5. Cities under lockdowns include provincial capitals across the country, from the tech hub Shenzhen to the megacity Chengdu. 

Nomura bank’s note on September 6 said that the Covid restrictions had affected the lives of 291.7 million Chinese residents, accounting for 20.7% of the country’s population. Nomura noted that 49 Chinese cities had imposed different levels of lockdowns and control measures, contributing to a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product.

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