The last time a top Chinese leader impromptu addressed thousands of officials in February 2020, President Xi Jinping called for a "people’s war” against COVID-19 at the outset of the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Premier Li Keqiang held a similarly rare video call with thousands of cadres across the nation to warn of an even worse economic crisis than two years ago, calling on them to better balance COVID-19 controls and economic growth.

Yet many government officials charged with implementing policy at the ground level aren’t quite sure who to listen to: Xi continues to emphasize the need for officials to push for zero COVID-19 cases, even as Li continuously urges them to bolster the economy and hit preordained growth targets.