China’s top leaders took the stage in front of a sea of masked delegates for the opening of parliament on Friday, the culmination of intensive planning at a time when gatherings around the world have been curtailed by the new coronavirus.
President Xi Jinping and other top leaders appeared without masks in front of about 5,000 delegates from parliament, known as the National People’s Congress (NPC), and a government advisory body, for the top annual political assembly.
Delegates travelling from across the country had to have multiple coronavirus tests and they have been sequestered in hotels, while media events and speeches have been moved online.
But there was no sign of social distancing at the opening session in the Great Hall of the People with the delegates sitting side by side in rows as usual.
Originally scheduled for early March, the NPC was delayed by more than two months because of a nationwide lockdown to block the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown remained in place in the capital until late April.
It is the first time the largely rubber-stamp parliament has been delayed in 25 years and its staging, although late, is a clear show of resolve by the government as it grapples with an economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus.
“From a political perspective, it’s important they hold it despite the costs and risks involved because of coronavirus,” said Graeme Smith, fellow at the Department of Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University.