Xi Resumes In-Person Summits Despite Covid Spike in Beijing

(Bloomberg) — A maskless President Xi Jinping met Cuban counterpart Miguel Diaz-Canel in Beijing, resuming his flurry of in-person summits even as a record Covid surge fanned lockdown fears in the Chinese capital.

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Xi expressed a willingness to “deepen trust” between the two nations during the talks, according to a video clip posted by state broadcaster China Central Television on Friday. The meeting represented Xi’s first public appearance since returning six days ago from a series of meetings in Southeast Asia, where images of the Chinese leader without a mask suggested he had a new tolerance for living with the virus.

Diaz-Canel, who was also maskless, said he was honored to be able to “personally greet you on this visit,” the state broadcaster said. The two had inspected honor guards and attended a banquet as part of Diaz-Canel’s visit, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Xi’s public appearances are closely watched for any signals about the direction of his signature Covid Zero strategy, which is facing one of its toughest tests since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. Daily infections climbed to a record of almost 32,000 nationwide on Thursday, with more than 1,800 in Beijing.

Almost every district of the Chinese capital is seeing targeted lockdowns of apartment blocks, and residents have been asked not to leave town unless necessary. Schools were closed in some districts, and grocery delivery services are stretched thin.

Read: Beijing Streets Empty, Food Delivery Strains Amid Covid Surge

It’s unclear what quarantine rules Xi, 69, has followed since finishing Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Bangkok on Nov. 19. Arrivals to the world’s No. 2 economy are required to spend five days in a hotel or government facility, followed by three days confined to home.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee tested positive for Covid-19 after returning from the APEC forum, where he met with Xi and other global leaders.

Xi previously stayed out of the public eye for 11 days after attending a summit in September in Uzbekistan, a period that was consistent with quarantine rules at the time. That trip was Xi’s first outside China in more than two years due, and he appeared to minimize handshakes and hold maskless meetings.

The Chinese president attended several events at the Group of 20 gathering in Indonesia without a mask and shook hands with leaders including US President Joe Biden. He is scheduled to meet with leaders from, Europe, Mongolia and Laos in the coming days.

–With assistance from Jing Li.

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