Regulators on promised tax cuts and other aid Monday to help companies recover from China's virus outbreak and expressed confidence the ruling Communist Party's growth targets can be achieved despite anti-disease controls that shut down much of the economy.
At a news conference, finance and planning officials said they are looking at how to channel aid to businesses after President Xi Jinping publicly promised over the past week to ensure farming and other industries recover quickly.
Manufacturing and other industries are gradually reviving, but forecasters say it is likely to be at least mid-March before automakers and other companies have returned to full production.
The government is looking at "targeted tax reduction," interest rate cuts and payments to poor and virus-hit areas, said an assistant finance minister, Ou Wenhan.
"We will do a good job of implementing large-scale interest rate reduction and tax deferral and ensure effective implementation as soon as possible," said Ou.
Business activity plunged after the government extended the Lunar New Year holiday in January to keep factories and offices closed and told the public not to travel. Officials are shifting toward reviving business but also have orders to prevent infection from spreading as millions of people return to work.
During a meeting Sunday, Xi said regions deemed to be at low risk of the disease should ease curbs controls and revive business activity while high-risk regions should focus on control. Xi said officials also should make sure planting of spring crops in China's vast countryside isn't disrupted. epidemic
Asked whether Beijing planned to reduce its economic growth targets for the year, the general secretary of the Cabinet's planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission, expressed confidence the virus's impact would be brief.
The ruling party has yet to announce this year's economic targets after 2019 growth fell to a multi-decade low of 6.1%. Forecasters expect it to be about 6% but say if the disease isn't controlled quickly, growth could decline to ask low as 5%, raising the risk of politically dangerous job losses.
"The epidemic's impact on the economy and society is short-term and generally controllable and will not change China's long-term positive economic fundamentals," said the NDRC official, Cong Liang.
"Economic and social development goals for 2020 can be achieved," Cong said.
Nearly 1,000 companies have received low-interest loans from a 300 billion yuan ($43 billion) recovery fund offered by the central bank, according to a People's Bank of China official, Chen Yulu.
Cong said industrial output is rebounding, though he gave no indication when the government expects it to return to normal.
Production by companies in trade-oriented coastal areas has risen above 70% of normal, according to Cong. He said food processing, coal mining and other industries are back to at least 70%, but he gave no figures for the level of production at their lowest point during the outbreak.
Israeli military said it was carrying out airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Sunday night, hours after Islamic Jihad fired barrages of rockets toward southern Israel.
A military spokesperson said the strikes targeted Islamic Jihad sites.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
At least 23 rockets were fired on Sunday, with Islamic Jihad saying the fire was a retaliation for the killing of a senior member of the Islamist group.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened security consulting with Israel's top defense officials in the defense ministry in Tel Aviv to discuss possible retaliation to the rockets.
King Abdullah II of Jordan held talks with Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Amman on Sunday, discussing the strong ties between the two countries and means to advance cooperation, in addition to the latest regional developments.
The two leaders voiced their keenness to bolster ties across all sectors, especially economic and investment-related fields, according to a Royal Court statement.
The discussions also covered the importance of activating the Jordanian-Qatari higher committee and capitalizing on promising opportunities to advance mutual interests.
Talks also focused on regional developments, mainly the Palestinian cause and the need to support the Palestinians as they seek their just and legitimate rights to establish their independent and viable state with East Jerusalem as its capital, based on the two-state solution, international law and relevant UN resolutions.
In 2018, Qatar pledged to provide 10,000 jobs for Jordanians in several sectors. It also pledged to invest 500 million U.S. dollars in several sectors and projects in Jordan.
The Syrian air defenses intercepted "hostile targets" over the capital Damascus on Sunday night, state TV reported.
Several explosions were heard on Sunday night reverberating across the capital, in what appeared to be a fresh missile attack targeting military sites in Syria.
The official media report has yet to name the party behind the missile strike, but Israel has repeatedly carried out similar attacks on military sites in and around the capital Damascus.
The attack is still ongoing.
A coalition of health experts have called on the Australian government to urgently establish an air pollution authority in response to the bushfire crisis.
In a paper published by the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday, researchers from leading Australian universities warned that the government can't wait for the findings of the Bushfire Royal Commission to act on the issue of air pollution.
Much of Australia's east coast was blanketed by smoke from fires that devastated the country. Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra all experienced the worst air quality in the world at different times amid the crisis.
Sotiris Vardoulakis, the lead author of the paper from Australian National University (ANU), said in a media release that the current health protection advice relating to bushfire smoke is "impractical."
"Telling people to stay indoors or reduce physical activities outdoors isn't sufficient. Smoke pollution levels vary over hours and days and can change quickly. For this reason, we need hourly averaged particulate air pollution - PM2.5 data - reported in real-time," he said in a media release.
"More nuanced advice would encourage individuals to be guided by location-specific air quality forecasts and the pattern of hourly PM2.5 concentrations at nearby air quality monitoring locations.
"It would also mean people could better plan their daily activities in ways that minimize exposure to pollution."
The paper highlighted inconsistencies in the current approach measuring air quality and called for a uniform national approach.
The proposed independent national expert committee would be charged with measuring air quality and communicating that information to the public while also coordinating research into the impact of air pollution on health.
"Public access to local, user-friendly air quality information and reliable smoke forecasts is essential for managing personal exposure as well as clinical deterioration in sensitive individuals," the paper said.
"More government investment is needed in air quality monitoring, forecasting and research on public health messaging, and exposure reduction measures to protect Australians from bushfire smoke."