China’s economic and social development has been hampered since the outbreak of COVID-19 which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 11 March 2020. However, the country is recovering its vitality back again as the number of domestic infected cases decrease. While people are advised to continue avoiding mobility or gatherings to prevent the virus from spreading, work forces in China are stepping out of their domiciles to the work places with various precautions. Let’s take a look at Guangzhou, an active member of UCLG ASPAC, as an example. Guangzhou is the capital city of Guangdong Province and one of China’s national central cities. It has 991 of the city’s 995 projects under construction and 98 of its 343 planned new projects resumed as of 23 March 2020, of which nearly 60% are industrial projects.

Guangzhou has shown satisfying performance under the state- and provincial-level commands and guidance and has made undaunted endeavours to limit the number of infected cases at 406 (338 have recovered and only one died from this disease, as of 27 March 2020). Guangzhou has also strived to minimise the outbreak’s impacts on the city’s economic and social development, particularly by ensuring the supply of goods and materials, promoting orderly and vigorous resumption of production, providing timely and targeted support for enterprises in need, and meeting the needs of special groups.

• Ensure the supply of goods and materials

Facing shortage of raw materials and production equipment for prevention and control materials, Guangzhou organised local enterprises to strengthen technical research and achieve breakthroughs in key equipment manufacturing and raw material production at earliest possible. It also allowed the import of qualified prevention and control materials from overseas. The increasing supply not only meets the need of local medical staff and the masses, but also eases the shortage in surrounding cities and regions such as Hubei Province and some of its hard-hit sister cities around the world.

When it comes to daily supplies, Guangzhou carried out several measures to ensure the supply and stabilise the prices. To secure daily supplies such as rice, vegetables and fruits, Guangzhou promoted orderly operation of farmers’ markets and supermarkets, increased supply of reserved frozen pork in a timely manner, and augmented financial support for the wholesale and retail, catering, logistics and cold storage enterprises that made outstanding contributions to the market supply. To stabilise the prices, it exempted value-added tax on the distribution of vegetables, fresh meat and egg products, and closely investigated and severely punished illegal behaviours such as hoarding and bidding up prices.

“The backbone for ensuring the supply and stabilising the prices in the city shortly after the outbreak of the epidemic is the strong supply chain system,” said Mr. Weimin, Deputy Director General of Guangzhou Municipal Commerce Bureau. Guangzhou has a sound supply chain system, comprising nearly 300 large- and medium-sized food production and processing companies, 37 urban logistics and distribution companies, 38 daily necessities wholesale markets, 28 cold storage companies with capacity of above 5,000 tons, 26 major supermarkets and community-based fresh food chains, 615 farmers’ markets, 709 importers of daily necessities and 7 major e-commerce platforms selling daily necessities. As a compound of market-oriented resources allocation and government-led adjustment, the system has shown its advantage in providing prompt, accurate and safe supply of daily necessities under extreme situation, which helped stem panic among the masses and maintain social stability and order.

• Promote orderly and vigorous resumption of production

Guangzhou enterprises have resumed production (since 9 February 2020) in an orderly and vigorous manner. To reduce the risk of new outbreak from huge amount of mobilisation of work forces, the authority provided guidance for enterprises on strengthening epidemic prevention and control measures and emergency plans for resumption of production. All of the eleven district-level governments set up centralised isolation points for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that could not do it by themselves; assisted enterprises to drive back their employees, especially professional and technical personnel; coordinated the commuting hours in populous industry parks and commercial buildings; and advocated shift of dining and remote working to avoid big gatherings. Other efforts include body temperature checking when entering a building, grid drawing in elevators to keep safe social distance, as well as introducing a series of localised guidelines for enterprises and work forces on epidemic prevention and resumption of work and production. It has proven that the more details a local government takes into consideration, the more orderly and safer the resumption of work and production will be.

• Provide timely and targeted support for enterprises in need

Realising the difficulties facing the enterprises to resume work and production, Guangzhou released 15 measures to support the healthy development of SMEs on 6 February 2020. Below are five highlights in carrying out these supportive measures.

  1. Strengthening financial support

Guangzhou and a number of banking institutions jointly launched a special credit and a variety of exclusive credit financing products, benefiting over 10,000 enterprises.

  1. Reducing rental costs

Guangzhou advocated industry parks, technology business incubators, shopping malls and professional markets to reduce rents for SMEs. Municipal and district-level state-owned properties took the lead in reducing rents for SMEs and individual businesses operating physical stores by 830 million CNY.

  1. Conducting tax reduction and exemption

Guangzhou reviewed and identified nearly 400,000 enterprises as qualified to benefit from the 950 million CNY of unemployment insurance subsidy for the sake of stabilising the retention rate.

  1. Supporting key enterprises

Guangzhou provided a reward of 100,000 CNY, in some cases up to 500,000 CNY, for each enterprise that resumed work and manufactured epidemic prevention and control materials during the Chinese New Year.

  1. Helping enterprises minimise losses due to the epidemic

Since early February, Guangzhou issued 129 Certificates of Force Majeure for affected enterprises free of charge, involving a contract value of 8,453 million CNY. It also mobilised 1,000 lawyers to provide free legal services for 10,000 enterprises.

The measures have improved sense of gain of local enterprises, especially SMEs, by effectively minimising their losses caused by the epidemic. The proactive stimulus helped enterprises regain strengths from the bleak business environment, and turned it into a conducive environment to maintain high economic productivity for the city.

• Meet the needs of special groups

Ensuring school-age education functions as normal, Guangzhou launched the online teaching and learning platform for students under compulsory education, and later for all of those at school ages. Ever since the launch on 17 February 2020, education departments have been updating the teaching resources, aiming at providing all-round education in virtue, intelligence, physics, aesthetics and labour. Embodying ‘no one left behind’ spirit, governments at district level and schools supported students who had no access to online learning by providing both software and hardware. Special care was also given to children of frontline workers, migrant children, and rural left-behind children. It is admitted that people are the pivotal element of social productivity and that education advances social productivity by reproducing labour forces and scientific knowledge. In this regard, with the aid of modern technology, Guangzhou worked to guarantee not only current but also long-term social productivity of the city.

Mental health of the masses is also one of Guangzhou’s concerns. To safeguard mental health of people from all walks of life, Guangzhou worked with professional psychologists to provide psychological consult on adapting mental reaction to the unprecedented epidemic/pandemic, such as frontline health workers’ tremendous stress of both achieving efficient rescue and facing high risk of infection and various psychological issues found in infected patients, quarantined suspected people, and people staying at home.

Conclusion

Guangzhou is the gateway city of South China. Although the city is still prudently preventing the loathsome COVID-19 epidemic, it shows a good sign that its engines for economic and social development are bouncing back and the people are pushing on despite the setbacks. Behind the scene is the city’s flexibility and resilience in managing the public health crisis. Such capability consists in the city’s strong economic foundation, the authority’s modernised urban governance, as well as the people’s solidarity.

Without the masses, Guangzhou could not finish the dual-task of simultaneously conducting epidemic prevention and control, and achieving orderly and vigorous resumption of production. As blood and flesh of the city, Guangzhou people have manifested their mighty solidarity from the downtime to the resumption of work and production. They might be workers and office staffs who strictly follow self-protection guidelines and vigorously restart their work, entrepreneurs who donate supplies for either prevention and control or daily necessities, security guards who check residents’ and visitors’ temperature at the entrance of communities, couriers who deliver food and goods for people distributing in high streets and back lanes, sanitation workers who devote to provide a safe public environment, teachers who teach and supervise in virtual classrooms, and thousands of volunteers who contribute themselves at different positions. Without a doubt, it is the joint force of each of the 20 million people’s self-consciousness, cooperation, and courage that safeguards the city and makes it vibrant again.

A strong economic foundation itself is not enough for a city to achieve sustained economic and social development in face of public health crisis. The city also needs a people-centric principle taking assertive and holistic actions and the empowered people showcasing strong solidarity. Synergising the forces from both top-down and bottom-up with its strong economic strength, Guangzhou has been adapting to the COVID-19 crisis with assurance.

By: Victoria, UCLG ASPAC Secondee from Guangzhou City Government

(Sources: Xinhua News Agency, CCTV News, CGTN, Guangzhou Daily, Sina Guangdong, Guangzhou Government.)

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