Xi says Covid containment is entering a new phase as cases rise after reopening

  • China Overcame Unprecedented Difficulties in Covid War: Xi
  • Fighting period to contain Covid still ahead: Xi
  • In Wuhan, the rise in new cases shows signs of easing
  • A health official says there are 10 million infections in Shanghai
  • The end of zero-covid restrictions sparks global concern

WUHAN/BEIJING, Dec 31 (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping called for greater effort and unity on Saturday, in his first comments to the public on COVID-19, as the country enters a “new phase” in its approach to fighting the pandemic. His government reversed course three weeks ago, easing its strict lockdown and mass testing policy.

China made an abrupt shift earlier this month from a “zero-Covid” policy it had maintained for nearly three years, leading to a nationwide crackdown on infections. This has caused a further drop in economic activity and international concern, with Britain and France becoming the latest countries to impose restrictions on travelers from China.

China’s shift follows unprecedented protests over policies championed by Xi, marks strong public opposition to his decade-long presidency and coincides with strong growth figures for the country’s $17 trillion economy.

In a televised address to mark the New Year, he said China has overcome unprecedented difficulties and challenges in the fight against Covid, and that its policies are “optimal” when the situation and time calls for it.

“Since the outbreak of the epidemic … the majority of workers and masses, especially medical workers, grassroots workers have bravely faced hardships and bravely persevered,” Xi said.

“At present, epidemic prevention and control is entering a new phase, it is still a period of struggle, everyone is working diligently and hard, the dawn is ahead. Let’s work hard, perseverance is victory, unity is victory.”

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New Year’s Eve prompted reflection online and by residents of Wuhan, the epicenter of the Covid outbreak nearly three years ago, about the zero-covid policy and the impact of its reversal.

People in the central city of Wuhan expressed hope that life would return to normal by 2023, despite a spike in cases since epidemic restrictions were lifted.

Chen Mei, 45, who lives in Wuhan, said she hoped her teenage daughter’s schooling would not be disrupted.

“It’s definitely not an effective way of learning when she can’t go to school and can only take classes online,” he said.

The video has been removed

Across the country, many expressed similar hope on social media, while others criticized it.

Thousands of users on China’s Twitter-like Weibo criticized the removal of a video created by local outlet Netease News, which compiled real-life stories that have captivated Chinese people since 2022.

Many of the stories included in the video, which could not be viewed or shared on domestic social media platforms by Saturday, highlight the difficulties faced by ordinary Chinese as a result of the previously strict COVID policy.

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

A Weibo hashtag about the video garnered nearly 4 million hits before it disappeared from the site around noon on Saturday. Social media users have created new hashtags to gather comments.

“What a twisted world, you can sing the praises of fake but you can’t show the real life,” one user wrote, attaching a screenshot of a blank page displayed when searching for hashtags.

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The disappearance of the videos and hashtags was seen by many as an act of censorship, with the Chinese government still viewing the story surrounding its handling of the disease as a politically sensitive issue.

Hospitals are overflowing

A wave of new infections has overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes across the country, with corpses outside crematoriums fueling public concern.

China, a country of 1.4 billion people, recorded one new Covid death on Friday, the same as the previous day – numbers that don’t match the experience of other countries that have reopened.

Airfinity, a UK-based health data company, said on Thursday that around 9,000 people in China could die from Covid each day. The total number of deaths in China since December 1 may have reached 100,000, with infections totaling 18.6 million.

Zhang Wenhong, director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with the People’s Daily published on Saturday that Shanghai reached the peak of the epidemic on Dec. 22, and now has about 10 million cases.

He said the numbers indicate that 50,000 people in the city of 25 million people will be hospitalized in the next few weeks.

At Wuhan’s central hospital, where former Covid whistleblower Li Wenliang worked and later died from the virus in early 2020, the number of patients dropped on Saturday compared to the rush of the past few weeks, a staff member told Reuters outside the hospital’s flu clinic.

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

A pharmacist at a shop next to the hospital said that most people in the city have now recovered.

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“It’s mainly the elderly who are getting sick now,” he said.

Data factory activity on Saturday shrank for a third straight month in December and the sharpest pace in nearly three years, in the first sign of a toll on China’s giant manufacturing sector due to a shift in Covid policy.

Reporting by Martin Quinn Pollard, Dingshu Wang and Xiao Yin in Wuhan, Eduardo Baptista in Beijing; Written by Sumeet Chatterjee Editing by Helen Popper and Frances Kerry

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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