Xi says COVID control is entering new phase as cases surge after reopening

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WUHAN/BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday called for greater effort and unity as the country enters a “new phase” in its approach to fighting the pandemic, in his first public comments on COVID -19 since his government changed course three a few weeks ago and relaxed its rigorous policy of containment and mass testing.

China’s abrupt shift earlier this month from the « zero-COVID » policy it had maintained for nearly three years has led to infections that have spread across the country unchecked. It has also caused a further decline in economic activity and international concerns, with Britain and France becoming the latest countries to impose restrictions on travelers from China.

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China’s shift follows unprecedented protests against policies championed by Xi, marking the strongest show of public defiance in his decade-old presidency and coinciding with grim growth numbers for the country’s economy of 17 trillions of dollars.

In a televised address to mark the New Year, Xi said China had overcome unprecedented difficulties and challenges in the battle against COVID, and its policies had been « optimized » when the situation and the weather demanded it. .

« Since the outbreak of the epidemic…the majority of cadres and masses, especially medical personnel, grassroots workers have braved the hardships and courageously persevered, » Xi said.

« At present, the epidemic prevention and control is entering a new phase, it is still a time of struggle, everyone is persevering and working hard, and the dawn is ahead of us. Let’s work harder. , perseverance means victory and unity means victory.

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New Year’s Eve sparked reflection online and by residents of Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID outbreak nearly three years ago, on the zero-COVID policy and the impact of its reversal. Residents of the central city of Wuhan have expressed hope that normal life will return in 2023 despite an increase in cases since pandemic curbs were lifted.

Chen Mei, 45, a resident of Wuhan, said she hoped her teenage daughter would see no further disruption to her schooling.

« When she can’t go to school and can only take online classes, that’s definitely not an effective way to learn, » she said.


Across the country, many people expressed similar hopes on social media, while others were critical.

Thousands of users on China’s Weibo Twitter slammed the removal of a video made by local outlet Netease News that compiled real-life stories from 2022 that had captivated Chinese audiences.

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Many of the stories included in the video, which could not be seen or shared on national social media platforms on Saturday, highlighted the difficulties faced by ordinary Chinese people due to the previously strict COVID policy.

Weibo and Netease did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Weibo hashtag on the video garnered nearly 4 million views before disappearing from platforms around noon on Saturday. Social media users created new hashtags to keep the comments flowing.

« What a perverse world, you can only sing the praises of the fake but you can’t show the real life, » wrote one user, attaching a screenshot of a blank page that shows up when searching hashtags.

The disappearance of the videos and hashtags, seen by many as an act of censorship, suggests that the Chinese government still views the narrative surrounding its handling of the disease as a politically sensitive issue.

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The wave of new infections has overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes across the country, with lines of hearses outside crematoria fueling public concern.

China, a country of 1.4 billion people, reported one new death from COVID on Friday, the same as the day before – figures that do not match the experience of other countries after they reopen.

British health data firm Airfinity said on Thursday that around 9,000 people in China were likely dying from COVID every day. China’s cumulative death toll since Dec. 1 likely reached 100,000, with infections totaling 18.6 million, he said.

Zhang Wenhong, director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, told People’s Daily in an interview published on Saturday that Shanghai peaked in infections on Dec. 22, saying there were currently around 10 million cases.

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He said the figures indicated that some 50,000 people in the city of 25 million would need to be hospitalized in the coming weeks.

At Wuhan Central Hospital, where former COVID whistleblower Li Wenliang worked and later died of the virus in early 2020, patient numbers were down on Saturday from the rush of recent weeks, said a worker outside the hospital’s fever clinic told Reuters.

“This wave is almost over,” said the worker, who was wearing a hazmat suit.

A pharmacist whose shop is next to the hospital said most townspeople have now been infected and recovered.

« It’s mostly older people who are getting sick from it now, » he said.

In the first indication of China’s manufacturing giant’s toll following the COVID policy shift, Saturday’s data showed factory activity shrank for the third straight month in December and at the fastest pace in nearly three year. (Reporting by Martin Quinn Pollard, Tingshu Wang and Xiaoyu Yin in Wuhan, Eduardo Baptista in Beijing; Writing by Sume and Chatterjee Editing by Helen Popper and Frances Kerry)



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