BEIJING: Xi Jinping has said he is "concerned" about the virus situation in the Chinese countryside, state media reported, as millions of people head to rural hometowns ahead of upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations.
The Chinese leader also defended his zero-COVID policy – lifted last month after crippling the economy and sparking nationwide protests – saying it had been "the right choice".
In a series of calls Wednesday (Jan 18) ahead of the holiday, the Chinese leader told local officials he worried about the situation in the country's rural hinterlands.
"Xi said he was primarily concerned about rural areas and rural residents after the country adjusted its COVID-19 response measures," state news agency Xinhua reported.
He "stressed efforts to improve medical care for those most vulnerable to the virus in rural areas," Xinhua said.
"Epidemic prevention and control has entered a new stage, and we are still in a period that requires great efforts," Xi was reported as saying, stressing the need to "address the shortcomings in epidemic prevention and control in rural areas".
Transport authorities have predicted that more than two billion trips will be made during a 40-day period between January and February – nearly double last year's number and 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
State media reported that 30.2 million people travelled nationwide on Wednesday alone.
The enormous migration – one of the world's largest – is widely expected to bring a surge in virus cases to China's under-resourced countryside.
Beijing last month lifted a hardline virus policy that saw the state impose gruelling lockdowns and mandatory mass testing, hammering China's economy and sending hundreds onto the streets in protests.
Xi defended that tough strategy on Wednesday, insisting zero-COVID had been "the right choice" and had allowed the country to fight "several rounds of outbreaks of virus mutations".