China is further along the coronavirus curve than much of the rest of the world and is on a fast path toward normal. We think its experience bears close watching—not only because China is a major contributor to global economic activity, but also because there will likely be important takeaways for the rest of the world as other countries plan their own reopenings.
In its first contraction since 1992, China’s GDP shrank 6.8% in the first quarter of 2020 as the country shut down in response to the novel coronavirus. But today, less than six months after its first identified case of COVID-19, China is getting back to work. Business is resuming. School bells are ringing. Construction workers are breaking ground.
It’s all made possible by the controls that China has put in place to allow gradual reopening during the pandemic.
China Flattens the Coronavirus Curve
In our view, China was able to flatten the curve quickly because of five governmental responses:
- Requiring facemasks since the start of the crisis. This is a must for resuming business.
- Strictly restricting imported cases in order to mitigate a second wave. Foreign visa holders are banned, and a 14-day quarantine is required after traveling overseas.
- Employing a combination of Western and traditional Chinese medicine to target a higher cure rate.
- Efficiently tracing and identifying cases using pay systems such as WeChat Pay and Alipay, as well as through geolocators on mobile devices.
- Adopting color-coded health QR codes. Red represents a confirmed case with travel ban. Yellow indicates a history of contact with a confirmed case or cases. And green signals the carrier is free to travel domestically.
While some of these measures bear costs—such as privacy—that other countries may choose not to incur, they have allowed China greater control over the spread of the disease and the route to economic recovery.
Measuring Progress in China’s Reopening
That route to recovery is taking less time than most observers anticipated.
For example, according to China’s Ministry of Education, 108 million (mostly secondary school) students were back at school on May 11. That’s 39% of the nation’s total. While some major universities are likely to remain closed for a while, we expect nearly 60% of China’s students to have returned to school by the end of the month.