Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday directed officials to take steps to protect lives as Covid-19 cases in his country jumped massively, AFP reported.

“At present, Covid-19 prevention and control in China are facing a new situation and new tasks,” Jinping said, according to state broadcaster CCTV. “We should launch the patriotic health campaign in a more targeted way.”

These were his first remarks since the onset of the new wave of Covid-19 infections in China.

In the past few weeks, coronavirus cases have increased sharply in China after it abandoned key parts of its “Zero Covid” containment strategy in response to protests. In some parts of the country, hospitals have become overcrowded and pharmacies have been facing shortages of medicines, according to Reuters.

People receive medical attention in a fever clinic in the Changning district in Shanghai on December 23. Credit: AFP/Hector Retamal

On December 14, a video shared by the South China Morning Post showed patients being hooked up to intravenous drips in their cars as beds were not available in clinics and hospitals.

According to an internal estimate from China’s top health officials, 25 crore persons or 18% of the population in the country may have caught Covid-19 infection in the first 20 days of December, The Financial Times reported.

It is estimated that 3.7 crore infections were reported on December 20 alone, said the report, citing deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention Sun Yang’s health briefing in a closed-door meeting.

China had also narrowed down its definition of Covid deaths earlier this week, drastically cutting its toll statistics. The health officials are now counting deaths from Covid-caused pneumonia or respiratory failure, reported Reuters.

On Monday, Jinping told officials that efforts were required to guide the public to maintain good personal hygiene and a healthy lifestyle. This, he said, would help build a defence line against the pandemic for society.

Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said that China’s response to Covid-19 was being implemented in an orderly fashion, according to the news agency Xinhua.

“Governments at all levels should redouble their efforts, effectively ensure people’s access to medical services and anti-epidemic supplies,” he added.