The president says Beijing has overcome unprecedented challenges in the fight against COVID amid another major wave of cases in the country.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for increased efforts and unity as the country enters a “new phase” in its approach to fighting the pandemic.

“Currently, epidemic prevention and control is entering a new phase,” he said on Saturday in his first public remarks on COVID-19 since his government changed course three weeks ago and eased its rigorous policies of lockdowns and mass testing.

“It is still a time of struggle, everyone perseveres and works hard, and the dawn is coming. Let’s work harder. Perseverance means victory, and unity means victory.”

from China abrupt switch earlier this month the “zero-COVID” policy it had enforced for nearly three years has led to unchecked infections across the country.

It has also led to a further decline in economic activity and international concern, with Britain and France being the latest countries impose curbs to travelers from China.

China’s switchover followed unprecedented protests against policies championed by Xi, marking the strongest demonstration of public defiance in his decade-old presidency and coinciding with grim growth rates for the country’s $17 trillion economy.

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

“Since the outbreak of the epidemic… the majority of cadres and masses, especially medical personnel, grassroots workers defied hardship and persevered courageously,” Xi said.

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

‘Open the floodgates’

Stephen Vines, a journalist and political commentator, told Al Jazeera from St Albans in Britain that the way China has changed its “zero-COVID” policy and how it is dealing with the new wave of COVID-19 infections” a mess”. .

He said the current crisis shows “the lack of preparation to suddenly dump the zero-COVID policy and open the floodgates”.

“This will literally result in hundreds of millions of people becoming infected with COVID,” added Vines.

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

Across the country, many people expressed their hope that life would return 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 collected true stories from 2022 that had captivated the Chinese public.

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

The wave of new infections has overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes across the country, with rows of hearses outside crematoria 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 don’t match other countries’ experience after they reopened.

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