BEIJING – Despite bringing the coronavirus outbreak under control, China is taking no chances when it comes to its biggest and most important political event of the year, the Two Sessions, or lianghui.
It’s the only time of the year when as many as 5,000 officials, business people, academics and military personnel gather in the capital to discuss the country’s policies, enact laws and approve the budget.
On previous occasions, thousands of foreign and local journalists would have been allowed to cover the events at the Great Hall of the People and an off-site news centre, where some of the press conferences are held.
This year, however, only a handful are allowed into the Great Hall for the opening and closing ceremonies of the meetings of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top political advisory body; and the National People’s Congress, the legislature.
And only selected journalists are invited to the press conferences, which have been reduced, at the off-site news centre.
Fewer than 30 of us were asked to report at 6am at the Diaoyutai Hotel on Sunday (May 24) to undergo a nucleic acid test. No test, no attending press conference, even though it was a virtual meeting.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi would take our questions from the Great Hall, while we sit in a room at the off-site news centre facing big screens.
Quick and painless – a swab inside my left cheek and I was given a keycard for a room in the hotel, where I had to wait for about six hours as my tissue sample is processed to determine if I had the coronavirus.
TWO MEALS WHILE WE WAIT
Breakfast was served soon after – a knock on my door to say it’s ready, and a tray left on a round coffee table in the corridor.
Lunch came at 11.40am, and was delicious.
We gathered at the reception area at 1.30pm to be taken by bus to the news centre, by which time we had received our test results.
THE MAIN EVENT
At the foreign minister’s press conference at last year’s lianghui, hundreds of journalists packed a hall, and many were left standing. This year, not only has the number of reporters shrunk dramatically, seats were placed a metre apart.
We had to be taken back to the hotel before being released even though everyone, including us, knew that we were Covid-free.