China has entered a new phase in its fight to combat the coronavirus pandemic and is facing tough challenges, President Xi Jinping said on Saturday in a televised speech to mark the New Year, PTI reported.

Three years after the coronavirus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Beijing last month lifted its strict “zero-Covid” policy, leading to a steep rise in infections.

In his New Year’s speech, Xi said China had overcome unprecedented difficulties and challenges in the battle against Covid.

“Since Covid-19 struck we have put the people first and put life first all along,” he added. “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.”

The Chinese president called for more effort and unity in the new phase of Covid control, adding the “light of hope is right in front of us”.

This was the second time in a week that Xi commented on the outbreak, which has led to some hospitals and morgues in the country being overwhelmed.

In the wake of unprecedented anti-lockdown protests, the Chinese authorities abandoned the strict measures to contain the virus. From January 8, China will end mandatory quarantine on arrival for those entering the country and allow people to travel abroad.

India along with the United States, Spain, France, South Korea, Italy, Japan and Taiwan have announced they will require negative tests from passengers arriving from China. Morocco, meanwhile, said it was banning all passengers from China, regardless of nationality, amid the surge in cases.

On Friday, the World Health Organization again urged Chinese officials to share real-time data about the Covid-19 situation in the country so that other nations can respond effectively.

“WHO stressed the importance of monitoring and the timely publication of data to help China and the global community to formulate accurate risk assessments and to inform effective responses,” the global health body said.

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