China is experiencing lasting problems with its economy and its first population decline in decades as COVID-19 proves to be an enduring issue with widespread repercussions.
The country’s economy grew just 3% in 2022 – the slowest rate it has reported in nearly four decades.
“China’s domestic economy has suffered unexpected shocks in 2022, including frequent COVID outbreaks and extreme heatwaves,” Kang Yi, director of China’s National Bureau of Statistics, said at a press conference on Tuesday. “The triple pressures of demand contraction, supply shocks and weakening expectations continue to evolve, and the complexity, severity and uncertainty of the environment are increasing.”
The country’s “zero COVID” policy that involved frequent lockdowns rattled the economy and prompted outrage among residents. China eased the policy in early December. While the relaxed measures were welcome for many, the massive COVID-19 surge that followed drove people off the streets and out of offices and shops.
“After an extended period of strict COVID policies, China has reopened its economy and borders, which should improve economic prospects moving forward,” Wells Fargo economists wrote in an analysis.
The trend comes as China reported a decline in its population for 2022. The National Bureau of Statistics reported Tuesday that the country’s population rang in at 1.41 billion people in 2022 – 850,000 fewer people than in 2021. It’s a massive change for a country that previously implemented a one-child policy to control its population growth.
“The contraction of the total population reflects the impact of the pandemic and the associated economic downturn on fertility demand,” Yue Su, principal economist at Economist Intelligence Unit, said in an analysis, adding that the country may see short-term population growth after its COVID-19 surge subsides.
Some experts believe that China’s population may have been on the decline for a few years. But it’s the first time the country has publicly reported the trend, highlighting compounding issues like an aging population and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even still, some are questioning the numbers given doubts about the country’s official COVID-19 death toll.
The data showed a small increase in mortality from about 10 million in recent years to 10.41 million deaths last year.
But over the weekend, a medical official from the National Health Commission disclosed that China’s COVID-19 death toll for the month of December nearly reached 60,000. Previously, the country reported just 5,272 total coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began. The country’s official death toll for COVID-19 only counts deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure, while the 60,000 figure includes other ailments combined with COVID-19.
The commissioner of the National Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday said that the coronavirus death figures for December were not yet included in the overall death totals for 2022.