BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China will modify the environmental supervision of companies to help the resumption of production disrupted by the coronavirus epidemic, giving firms more time to rectify environmental problems, but stressed it was not relaxing standards.
China’s economic growth is expected to have halved in the first quarter to the weakest since 1990 as the epidemic and strict containment measures crippled factory production, hobbled supply chains and led to a sharp slump in demand.
“The environmental supervision should be adjusted in accordance with practical needs and social economic situation,” said Cao Liping, director of Ecological and Environmental Enforcement bureau at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), at a press briefing on Tuesday.
“The purpose of environmental supervision is never about shutting firms and curbing production, but about encouraging firms to actively meet the environmental standards,” he said.
The environmental inspectors will not punish firms who make a small mistake but are able to correct it in time and not cause any environmental damage. The deadline for firms to meet environmental standards will also be extended at discretion.
But Cao said that changes to supervision did not mean relaxing environmental rules or supervision.
The environmental ministry will use the coronavirus outbreak as a chance to improve the supervision efficiency, by adopting more high-tech means and reducing on-site checks, said Cao.
China has said it will exempt some firms from on-site environmental checks if they are involved in the production of materials used in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic or have low emission levels.
It has simplified environmental assessments on some medium- and small-sized firms in the service industry, including restaurant, entertainment and hotel. It has also simplified assessments for some big projects in infrastructure, manufacture, transportation and animal husbandry, which involve intensive labor and have been hit hard by the virus.
The MEE expects 300,000 firms and 55,000 projects to benefit from the new policy.
The flu-like epidemic, which has killed 3,136 and infected more than 80,000 in mainland China, has seen the country’s medical systems stretched. At one stage it built 14 temporary hospitals in the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.
China now plans to set up end-to-end medical waste facilities in all cities by end-2020 and in all counties by June 2022, said the MEE.
“Medical treatment capacity is not even in China, with 22 cities operating over-capacity and 28 cities running near full-capacity,” said Zhao Qunying, director of environmental emergency bureau at the MEE.
China currently has a total medical waste treatment capacity of 6,022 tonnes per day, but some are temporarily set up or converted from ordinary waste treatment facilities.
The MEE also said it is studying whether to include wild animal protection law enforcement into central environmental supervision.
The virus, said to have originated in a wet market in Wuhan selling illegal wildlife, has led to China banning illegal trading and poaching of wild animals.
Reporting by Muyu Xu in Beijing and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Michael Perry