China’s economy tsar has urged technological breakthroughs in domestic vaccines and urban management in an attempt to energise “scientific” coronavirus policies, while also doubling down on self-reliance. The standing committee of the Politburo, the highest decision-making group in China, did not mention “stepping up the research and development of vaccines” during its meeting at the start of May, which was widely viewed as Beijing placing greater focus on enforcement of its zero-Covid strategy. But the remarks by Vice-Premier Liu He suggest vaccine development remains on the agenda, with clinical trials of a home-grown jab targeting the Omicron variant having started in Zhejiang province earlier this month. Liu also stressed the need to explore how to ensure a city’s operation continues under “extreme situations”, such as lockdowns, by using technology. [We] should enhance the study on the mechanism of viruses and the research and development of vaccines and drugs, deepening the study of significant changes facing human epidemic Liu He “[We] should enhance the study on the mechanism of viruses and the research and development of vaccines and drugs, deepening the study of significant changes facing human epidemics,” Li told a meeting with the Chinese Academy of Engineering on Monday, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Beijing has recently acknowledged that the combined impact of the Ukraine war, the domestic Omicron-driven wave of outbreaks and its heavy-handed virus containment measures have sent the Chinese economy to a dangerous level, raising the risk of missing the annual growth rate of “around 5.5 per cent”. Discussions are ongoing about if and when Beijing will fine-tune its policies or unveil their virus exit strategy, given the increasing signs of rising costs and low sustainability of the zero-Covid approach. “Vice-Premier Liu He’s speech implies the message about improving and adjusting China’s current Covid controls,” said He Jun, a senior analyst with Anbound, a multinational independent think tank. “If [China] can improve the effectiveness and variety of vaccines and treatment drugs, it will reduce the dependence on large-scale PCR testing and highly-costly lockdowns, and help to maintain the normal operation of economy and society under the pandemic.” Studying city operations under extreme situations will help avoid the chaos previously seen in Wuhan and Shanghai, He added. “Summarising [the experience] and strengthening the research, this is a sign of making the public policy more scientific,” He said. China has yet to approve any overseas-developed mRNA vaccines produced by the likes of BioNTech and Moderna, which teach the body to generate a protein that will trigger an immune response, despite its high efficacy rate, with authorities favouring home-grown alternatives. The mRNA vaccine developed by BioNTech has completed a phase two clinical trial in China and Fosun Pharmaceutical has a commercial deal to distribute 100 million doses of the vaccine. China has also approved the emergency use of Pfizer’s Covid-19 oral pills , but they are not being widely used. With China afraid to twist, what does zero-Covid mean for the economy? Liu, who is also the deputy head of the national technology strategy body, also called for technological advances in basic software, key hardware and basic raw materials to ensure smooth industrial and supply chains. He reaffirmed the need to speed up research on biotech breeding, strengthen soil conservation and improvement and raise the efficiency of fertilisers to safeguard food security for China’s 1.4 billion population. He also placed an emphasis on new energy and technology for using coal to produce oil and gas to ensure China’s domestic energy supply. Innovation in artificial intelligence, blockchain and digital currency, as well as ensuring the country’s cybertechnology system remains under control, were also highlighted by Li. Beijing has repeatedly underscored self-reliance in its economic priorities this year, from technology and industry and from agriculture to energy, amid warnings of trade headwinds and geopolitical complexities.