The Chinese Communist Party reached deep into private business and the broader population to drive a recovery, an authoritarian approach that has emboldened its top leader, Xi Jinping.
The order came on the night of Jan. 12, days after a new outbreak of the coronavirus flared in Hebei, a province bordering Beijing. The Chinese government’s plan was bold and blunt: it needed to erect entire towns of prefabricated housing to quarantine people, a project that would start the next morning.
Part of the job fell to Wei Ye, the owner of a construction company, which would build and install 1,300 structures on commandeered farmland.
Everything — the contract, the plans, the orders for materials — was “all fixed in a few hours,” Mr. Wei said, adding that he and his employees worked exhaustively to meet the tight deadline.
“There is pressure, for sure,” he said, but he was “very honored” to do his part.
In the year since the coronavirus began its march around the world, China has done what many other countries would not or could not do. With equal measures of coercion and persuasion, it has mobilized its vast Communist Party apparatus to reach deep into the private sector and the broader population, in what the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, has called a “people’s war” against the pandemic — and won.
China is now reaping long-lasting benefits that few expected when the virus first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and the leadership seemed as rattled as at any moment since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.
The success has positioned China well, economically and diplomatically, to push back against the United States and others worried about its seemingly inexorable rise. It has also emboldened Mr. Xi, who has offered China’s experience as a model for others to follow.
While officials in Wuhan initially dithered and obfuscated for fear of political reprisals, the authorities now leap into action at any sign of new infections, if at times with excessive zeal. In Hebei this January, the authorities deployed their well-honed strategy to test millions and isolate entire communities — all with the goal of getting cases, officially only dozens a day in a population of 1.4 billion, back to zero.
The government has poured money into infrastructure projects, its playbook for years, while extending loans and tax relief to support business and avoid pandemic-related layoffs. China, which sputtered at the beginning of last year, is the only major economy that has returned to steady growth.
When it came to developing vaccines, the government offered land, loans and subsidies for new factories to make them, along with fast-tracking approvals. Two Chinese vaccines are in mass production; more are on the way. While the vaccines have shown weaker efficacy rates than those of Western rivals, 24 countries have already signed up for them since the pharmaceutical companies have, at Beijing’s urging, promised to deliver them…
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