Chinese leader acknowledges that nation is "facing a new situation" in dealing with the deadly virus as it experiences the biggest surge in infections after abruptly lifting restrictions that weighed down on the economy.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged officials to take steps to protect lives in his first public remarks on Covid-19 since Beijing dramatically loosened hardline containment measures this month.
"At present, Covid-19 prevention and control in China are facing a new situation and new tasks," Xi said in a directive, according to state broadcaster CCTV on Monday.
"We should launch the patriotic health campaign in a more targeted way... fortify a community line of defence for epidemic prevention and control, and effectively protect people's lives, safety and health," Xi said.
As of Monday, the government reported no new Covid-related deaths in the mainland for December 25, with the death toll standing at 5,241.
But studies have estimated that around one million people could die over the next few months in China.
Many in the population are now grappling with shortages of medicine, while emergency medical facilities are strained by an influx of undervaccinated elderly patients.
In the province of Zhejiang, health officials estimated that one million residents were being infected per day, while Qingdao city predicted roughly 500,000 new daily infections and Dongguan city eyed 250,000 to 300,000.
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'Impossible' to track outbreak
Hospitals and crematoriums across the country have also been reportedly overflowing with Covid patients and victims, while China's National Health Commission on Sunday announced it would stop publishing daily nationwide infection and death statistics.
Beijing has admitted the scale of the outbreak has become "impossible" to track following the end of mandatory mass testing, as people are now not obliged to declare test results to authorities.
And last week, Beijing narrowed the criteria by which Covid-19 fatalities were counted— a move experts said would suppress the number of deaths attributable to the virus.
The winter surge comes ahead of two major public holidays next month, in which millions of migrant workers are expected to travel to their hometowns to reunite with relatives.
Authorities are bracing for the virus to hit under-resourced rural areas hard, and on Monday called for the guaranteed supply of drugs and medical treatment during New Year's Day and the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, which begins January 21.
In some parts of China, including in the southern Guangdong province, cities have fully reopened despite the surge, and thousands of people are seen out and about in the streets, shopping and attending large holiday outdoor gatherings.
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