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President Xi defends China’s 'zero-COVID' policy as cases soar in Shanghai

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A health worker monitors arriving passengers at Suvarnabhumi International airport in Bangkok in January to help detect passengers who may be infected with new coronavirus. (Photo by AP)

China's President Xi Jinping commended the country's “tested Zero-Covid” strategy on Friday even as Shanghai prepared nearly 130,000 beds for new coronavirus patients.

At an event to honor Olympic athletes, Xi lauded the country’s efforts to hold the recent Winter Games which he said showed the country’s virus policy "once again withstood the test."

"Against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic that rages across the world, we have put first the health of all participants, adhered to the policy of preventing the coronavirus from re-entering the country to cause a new epidemic, and strictly implemented the prevention and control measures," he said.

"As some foreign athletes have said, if there was a gold medal for responding to the pandemic, then China deserves it," he added, praising the organizers.

Until March, China had kept cases low with localized lockdowns, mass testing, and strict restrictions on international travel.

But the country has reported thousands of daily cases in recent weeks, with economic hub Shanghai placed under lockdown over soaring infections of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.

More than 26 million people in the bustling Chinese city Shanghai were placed under a partial two-stage lockdown last week in a bid to contain the fresh COVID-19 outbreak.

Health authorities in the city said on Friday that 130,000 new beds were ready or under construction for Covid-positive residents in the city at makeshift venues including exposition halls.

The city reported more than 21,000 new infections on Friday, the vast majority of them asymptomatic.

On Tuesday, authorities in the city announced that more subway lines would be suspended as part of more restrictions on the city transportation network.

At least 38 thousand personnel were deployed to the city on Monday in what was described as the biggest nationwide medical operation in the country since the shutdown of Wuhan in early 2020.

According to media reports, more than 10,000 healthcare workers from provinces such as Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Beijing have been recruited for the massive health mission.

But Beijing is sticking to its zero-tolerance approach and is determined to squash the Shanghai outbreak, sending in 38,000 medical workers and 2,000 soldiers from around the country to the city as reinforcements.

The state-run People's Daily newspaper on Friday declared that zero-Covid remained the "best choice" for China, arguing the country should "never grow numb, never grow tired of fighting, and never grow slack."

On Friday the northwestern city of Xian announced it would not allow its citizens to return from or visit areas where the virus is still highly prevalent without making arrangements with pandemic control departments first.

Nomura this week estimated that 23 Chinese cities have implemented either full or partial lockdowns. The cities collectively are home to an estimated 193 million people and contribute 22% of China's GDP. These include Changchun, a major manufacturing hub that has been locked down for 28 days.

"The extremely widespread COVID restrictions beyond Shanghai, and the risk-averse attitude of both central and local government officials, suggest that the economic impact of the various lockdowns will not ease in a matter of days or even weeks," Ernan Cui, an analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics who studied COVID policies, was quoted as saying.

China, where the novel coronavirus originated in late 2019, has called its "zero-tolerance" approach the most economical and effective prevention strategy against the pandemic.

The country’s anti-coronavirus measures, including mass testing, vaccination, and lockdown of cities and provinces for even small numbers of infections, have been largely successful in curbing the disease.

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