Xi Jinping calls for ‘unity’ as China enters ‘new phase’

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for “unity” as the country enters a “new phase” in its approach to combating the pandemic. While addressing the public on New Year’s Eve, Mr Jinping, 69, claimed that China had succeeded in the fight against COVID-19 with policies “optimised” when the circumstances demanded.

He continued: “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.”

In a televised speech to mark the New Year on Saturday, Xi said China had overcome unprecedented difficulties and challenges in the battle against COVID, and that its policies were “optimized” when the situation and time so required.

Mr Jinping said: “Since the outbreak of the epidemic … the majority of cadres and masses, especially medical personnel, grassroots workers braved hardships and courageously persevered.”

China will “always steadfastly advocate for peace and development … and unswervingly stands on the right side of history.”

New Year’s Eve prompted reflection online about the zero-Covid policy and the effect of its reversal.

Across the country, many people voiced their hopes for life to go back to normal on social media, while others were critical.

Thousands of users on China’s Twitter-like Weibo criticized the removal of a video made by local outlet NetEase News that collated real-life stories from 2022 that had captivated the Chinese public.

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

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

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

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.

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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 travelers from China.

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

He said those numbers indicated that some 50,000 people in the city of 25 million would need to be hospitalized in the next few weeks.

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