In his first public remarks on COVID-19 since his administration reversed course three weeks ago and loosened its strict policy of lockdowns and mass testing, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged greater effort and unity as the nation entered a “new era” in its approach to combatting the pandemic.
China abruptly abandoned its “zero-COVID” policy earlier this month after upholding it for over three years, which allowed diseases to spread unchecked throughout the nation. Additionally, it has led to a further decline in economic activity and increased diplomatic concern, with Britain and France the most recent nations to implement restrictions on Chinese travel.
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.
Wuhan resident Chen Mei, 45, said she hoped her teenage daughter would see no further disruptions to her schooling.
“When she can’t go to the school and can only have classes online it’s definitely not an effective way of learning,” she said.