China COVID Control Entering New Phase
Chinese President Xi Jinping called on Saturday for more effort and unity as the country enters a “new phase” in its approach to combating the pandemic, in his first comments to the public on COVID-19 since his government changed course three weeks ago and relaxed its rigorous policy of lockdowns and mass testing.
China’s abrupt switch earlier this month from the “zero-COVID” policy that it had maintained for nearly three years has led to infections sweeping across the country unchecked. It has also caused a further drop in economic activity and international concern, with Britain and France becoming the latest countries to impose curbs on travellers from China.
The switch by China followed unprecedented protests over the policy championed by Xi, marking the strongest show of public defiance in his decade-old presidency and coinciding with grim growth figures for the country’s $17 trillion economy.
In a televised speech to mark the New Year, Xi said China had overcome unprecedented difficulties and challenges in the battle against COVID, and that its policies were “optimised” when the situation and time so required.
“Since the outbreak of the epidemic … the majority of cadres and masses, especially medical personnel, grassroots workers braved 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. Let’s work harder, persistence means victory, and unity means victory.”
New Year’s Eve prompted reflection online and by residents of Wuhan, the epicentre 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 normal life would return in 2023 despite a surge in cases since pandemic curbs were lifted.