China’s president, Xi Jinping, said China has entered a new phase in its fight against Covid and that tough challenges remain in his most frank public comments on the reversal of the Covid Zero policy.
That reversal has resulted in nationwide outbreaks and tested the country’s health system and economy.
“Following a science-based and targeted approach, we have adapted our Covid response in light of the evolving situation, to protect the life and health of the people to the greatest extent possible, Mr Xi said in his annual New Year’s Eve speech on Saturday.
“With extraordinary efforts, we have prevailed over unprecedented difficulties and challenges, and it has not been an easy journey for anyone, Mr Xi said, in what seems to be a rare acknowledge of the hardships the Chinese people endured during the punishing lockdowns, as well as in the rapid spread of Covid.
The country is moving into a new phase of Covid control, Xi said, calling on the public to have patience. “Let’s make an extra effort to pull through, as perseverance and solidarity mean victory, he said, adding the “light of hope is right in front of us”.
China “stands on the right side of history”, Mr Xi said in the address despite questions over his government’s handling of Covid-19 and economic and political challenges at home and abroad.
Speaking on national television, Mr Xi largely avoided directly addressing issues confronting the country, pointing instead to successes in agricultural production, poverty elimination and its hosting of the Winter Olympics in February.
However, he later turned to the challenges facing the world’s most populous country and second-largest economy, saying: “The world is not at peace.”
China will “always steadfastly advocate for peace and development ... and unswervingly stands on the right side of history”, he said.
The president had hoped 2022 would be a celebratory year for him, one that allowed him to secure a third term in power at a Communist Party congress in October. Yet more than a month later his government faced the most widespread protests in decades as public anger over the harsh Covid Zero strategy boiled over.
Without referring to the protests, Mr Xi said “it is only natural for the country’s 1.4 billion people to have “different concerns and different views” on some issues. “What matters is that we build consensus through communication and consultation, he said.
Earlier this month, Mr Xi’s government abruptly started dismantling its strict policy, leading to outbreaks in Beijing, Shanghai and several other major cities and provinces.
The result has been busy hospital emergency rooms and crematoriums. The nation could see as many as 25,000 deaths a day from Covid-19 in January, according to Airfinity, a London-based research firm. – Agencies