Chinese President Xi Jinping said that his country has entered a new stage in the fight against coronavirus, and it still faces difficult tasks.

“Using a science-based and focused approach, we have adapted our COVID response to the changing situation to protect people’s lives and health as much as possible,” Xi said in his New Year’s address on Saturday.

On Friday, Xi commented for the first time on a “zero COVID” policy since his government took the first easing steps on Dec. 7. He said the strategy has been “optimized” to protect lives and reduce economic costs. But China’s sudden exit from Covid Zero – a policy that for nearly 3 years has called for massive testing, sudden closures and mostly border closures – has triggered a wave of infections.

Xi Jinping commented that China is entering a new stage in the fight against COVID-19 and urged the public to be patient. “Let’s put in extra effort to move forward, because perseverance and solidarity mean victory,” he said.

Xi said the Chinese economy has “enjoyed good growth.” Gross domestic product exceeded 120 trillion yuan ($17.4 trillion) this year, Xi said, indicating economic growth of at least 4.4% in 2022, compared to analysts’ forecasts of just 3%.

Xi is betting that an economic recovery next year will help China weather the shock. Officials at a recent meeting of the 24-member Politburo vowed to revive consumer demand and support the private sector.

Economic activity has already started picking up in some major cities, data on subways, roads, airports and cinemas shows. “December is likely to be the bottom of the economic downturn,” analysts at Haitong Securities, including Liang Zhonghua, wrote in a report Thursday.

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