SHANGHAI: China's President Xi Jinping praised the country's "tested" zero-Covid strategy on Friday, even as Shanghai authorities prepared nearly 130,000 beds for Covid-19 patients amid surging cases and mounting public anger.
Until March, China had kept cases low with localised lockdowns, mass testing, and strict restrictions on international travel.
But the country has reported thousands of daily cases in recent weeks, with economic hub and outbreak epicentre Shanghai placed under lockdown over ballooning infections of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Shanghai authorities 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 asymptomatic.
Yet President Xi on Friday lauded the country's Covid response, saying at an event to honour Olympic athletes that the country's handling of the recent Winter Games showed that its virus policy "once again withstood the test."
"Some foreign athletes told us that if there was a gold medal for epidemic response, it should be awarded to China," Xi said at the ceremony in Beijing.
Shanghai's roughly 25 million inhabitants were locked down in phases last week, prompting scenes of panic buying and mass testing.
Residents have begun to chafe at the restrictions, with some taking to social media to complain of food shortages and express outrage over the killing of a pet corgi by health workers.
Meanwhile, officials softened a policy of splitting Covid-positive children from their virus-free parents after the rule triggered public anger.
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."
China, the country where the coronavirus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, is among the last remaining places in the world following a zero-Covid approach to the pandemic.
The outbreak has taken on an increasingly serious economic dimension, with China's factory output falling to its lowest in two years in March, according to independent indices released by Chinese media group Caixin.
Researchers have warned China could suffer a "colossal outbreak" overwhelming its medical system if it abruptly relaxes restrictions.
But the WHO's Western Pacific regional director Takeshi Kasai on Thursday warned that the "human and social cost of lockdowns are considerable."