Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) yesterday called for more effort and unity as the country enters a “new phase” in its approach to combating COVID-19, in his first comments addressed to the public on the disease since his government changed course three weeks ago and relaxed its rigorous policy of lockdowns and mass testing.
The statement in a televised speech to mark the new year came as France, Israel, South Korea, Spain and the UK on Friday joined Taiwan, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia and the US in requiring negative COVID-19 tests for all travelers from mainland China, in a bid to avoid importing new virus variants.
Beijing earlier this month scrapped its “zero COVID” approach based on mass testing, centralized quarantine and lockdowns — which it had maintained for almost three years — after waves of unprecedented protests against the government.
The WHO on Friday said it pressed Beijing to be more forthcoming on real-time data amid an explosion of cases in China.
The global health body said in a statement that it summoned Chinese officials and “asked for regular sharing of specific and real-time data on the epidemiological situation.”
“WHO stressed the importance of monitoring and the timely publication of data to help China and the global community ... to inform effective responses,” it said.
In his speech, Xi said that China had overcome unprecedented difficulties and challenges in the battle against COVID-19, and that its policies were “optimized” 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.
New Year’s Eve in China prompted an outpouring of reflection online, some of it critical, about the strict COVID-19 policies.
Thousands of users on China’s Sina Weibo yesterday criticized the removal of a viral video made by local outlet Netease News that collated real-life stories from last year that had captivated the Chinese public.
Many of the stories included in the video, which by yesterday could not be seen or shared on domestic social media platforms, highlighted the difficulties ordinary Chinese faced as a result of the strict “zero COVID” policy.
Weibo and Netease did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
One Weibo hashtag about the video garnered almost 4 million hits before it disappeared from platforms at about noon yesterday. Social media users created new hashtags to keep the comments pouring in.
“What a perverse world. You can only sing the praises of the fake, but you cannot show real life,” one user wrote, attaching a screenshot of a blank page that is displayed when searching for the hashtags.
Additional reporting by AFP
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