March 16, 2020 / 10:56 AM / 15 days ago

China eyes rescheduled parliament for late April or early May: sources

BEIJING (Reuters) - China tentatively plans to hold its delayed annual gathering of parliament in late April or early May, two people involved in preparations told Reuters, as new coronavirus cases in the country drop sharply even as they surge elsewhere.

The annual meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), known as the “two sessions”, were scheduled for early March but were delayed due to the virus outbreak, with no new date announced.

Holding the events, which typically draw a combined 5,000 delegates to Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, would be a major indication that the Chinese leadership sees things as returning to normal.

The State Council Information Office and the media department of the Standing Committee of the NPC did not immediately respond to faxed requests for comment on Monday.

The outbreak that originated in the central city of Wuhan has infected more than 80,000 people in the country, killed 3,200 and wreaked economic havoc, causing factory output to plunge at the sharpest pace in three decades.

The NPC’s timing is not finalised, and one of the people said the number of attendees may be reduced, with those visiting from outside Beijing needing to undergo quarantine.

People now arriving in the capital from elsewhere in China must spend two weeks in quarantine.

“We still have to play it by ear, as the coronavirus rapidly spreads across the world,” said the person, declining to be identified given the sensitivity of the matter.

The NPC, China’s parliament, usually sits for at least 10 days. The CPPCC, a largely ceremonial advisory body, runs in parallel.

During parliament, legislators pass laws and unveil economic targets, defense spending projections and other important policy decisions. It is also an occasion for China’s ruling Communist Party to announce major policy and personnel changes.

This year, the NPC is expected to discuss the recent months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong, with China’s economy also expected to be a key item on the agenda.

China’s factory production plunged at the sharpest pace in 30 years in the first two months of the year due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus, data on Monday showed.

Urban investment and retail sales also fell sharply and for the first time ever.

The health ministry said last week China had passed the peak of its the coronavirus epidemic. As locally transmitted cases plunge, most new reported cases in recent days have been imported, according to government data.

Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel

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