Chinese President Xi Jinping assured Saturday that "the light of hope is before us", as his country faces an explosion of COVID-19 cases after an abrupt lifting of health restrictions.
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Three years after the first cases of coronavirus appeared in Wuhan, China on December 7 ended its draconian so-called “zero COVID-19” policy without notice.
Since the lifting of restrictions, Chinese hospitals have been overwhelmed by an onslaught of mostly elderly patients, crematoriums have been overwhelmed and many pharmacies have run out of fever medication.
“The epidemic prevention and control has entered a new phase. We are still in a difficult moment”, but “the light of hope is ahead of us”, Xi Jinping said in a televised address for the New Year.
This is the Beijing strongman's second comment on the outbreak this week.
On Monday, Xi called for measures to "effectively protect people's lives."
The country on Saturday reported more than 7,000 new positive cases and one additional death linked to COVID-19 among a population of 1.4 billion. Largely understated figures that appear to be totally out of step with the reality on the ground.
Despite this epidemic rebound, the authorities will end mandatory quarantines on arrival in China on January 8 and allow Chinese people to travel abroad, after three years of frustration.
As a precaution, several European countries including France and Italy, as well as the United States and Japan have announced that they will require negative tests from passengers arriving from China.
The precautionary measures taken by several states are "understandable" in view of the lack of information provided by Beijing, said the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“In the absence of complete information from China, it is understandable that countries take measures that they believe will protect their people,” he said.
Beijing assures that its statistics on COVID-19 since the start of the epidemic have always been transparent.
The WHO announced on Friday evening that it had met with Chinese officials to discuss the outbreak.
“WHO has again requested the regular sharing of specific and real-time data on the epidemiological situation, including more data on genetic sequencing and on the impact of the disease, including hospitalizations, admissions to units intensive care and deaths,” the UN health agency said in a statement.
She also called for data on vaccinations carried out and vaccination status, in particular among vulnerable people and those over 60, the WHO added.
The “zero Covid” policy has enabled the Chinese population since 2020 to be largely protected from the virus, thanks to generalized screening tests, strict monitoring of movements but also compulsory confinements and quarantines as soon as cases are discovered.
These measures, which have largely isolated China from the rest of the planet, have dealt a severe blow to the world's second largest economy. In recent months, they have aroused growing frustration among the population and have given rise to unusual demonstrations against the government.