Chinese President Xi Jinping said the country would “stick with” its zero-Covid strategy, state TV reported Thursday, as the world’s most populous nation battles its largest outbreak since the early days of the pandemic.

“We must always continue to put people and life at the forefront, stick to scientific accuracy and dynamic-zero, and curb the spread of the epidemic as soon as possible,” Xi said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Xi Jinping. File photo: World Economic Forum via Flickr.

Speaking at a meeting of China’s top leaders, he said China must “raise the level of scientifically accurate prevention and control and continuously optimise disease control measures”.

Just three weeks ago China — one of the last nations in the world to stick to a policy of stamping out every Covid case — was reporting under 100 infections daily, but that number has swelled past 1,000 per day for a week.

The country where the virus emerged in Wuhan in late 2019 has largely kept it under control since then through strict measures, and has not reported any Covid-related deaths for more than a year.

But the highly transmissible Omicron variant is posing a challenge to the zero-Covid strategy, resulting in cities including the southern tech hub of Shenzhen being locked down and others placed under tight restrictions. 

Xi also called on the country to “strengthen technological key areas like vaccination, rapid testing and drug research” to make virus curbs more “targeted”.

The president said there was a need to step up “prevention and control guidance” for severely affected areas, and “swiftly control local clustered outbreaks”, according to CCTV.

He also stressed the need to step up prevention at ports of entry as imported infections rise.

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