China downgrades COVID management
By Wang Xiaoyu| (chinadaily.com.cn)| Updated : 2022-12-27Print Print
An elderly woman receives a shot of COVID-19 vaccine in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, Dec 12, 2022. [Photo/IC]
Chinese health authorities announced late on Dec 26 that they have decided to rename "novel coronavirus pneumonia" to "novel coronavirus infection" and downgrade the management of the disease from category A to category B starting Jan 8.
The downgrade means that inbound travelers will no longer have to undergo quarantine or take nucleic acid tests upon arrival. But they are required to test negative for the virus at least 48 hours before boarding and wear masks onboard, the commission said.
In addition, isolation of infected case, tracking of their close contacts and classification of at-risk areas will be scrapped. Testing services will be available for those willing to take a test and publishing of epidemic information, which is currently reported on a daily basis, will be adjusted.
"By evaluating factors, including viral mutations, epidemic situation and disease control capability, China is deemed to meet basic requirements for the downgraded management," it said.
According to the commission, the novel coronavirus tends to mutate toward less virulence, has shorter incubation period and cause mainly upper respiratory disease.
The dominant Omicron strain is highly infectious, but asymptomatic and mild cases account for over 90 percent and the rates of severe illnesses and deaths are "extremely low."
China has also stepped up preparedness for easing restrictions as it has delivered over 3.4 billion COVID-19 doses and fully vaccinated more than 90 percent of people aged three and above. Progress has also been made in developing antiviral drugs, traditional Chinese medicine and accumulating experiences in handling outbreaks and treating patients.
The renaming of the disease is also meant to reflect the diminished pathogenicity of Omicron, it added.
However, lowering disease category does not mean leaving the virus to run rampant, said Liang Wannian, head of the commission's COVID-19 response expert panel, during an interview with Xinhua News Agency on Tuesday.
"The adjustment is aimed to controlling outbreaks more precisely and scientifically and make more efficient use of resources to balance epidemic containment and socioeconomically development," he said. "The principle of putting people and lives first does not change."
To fight against the disease, the commission said that China will further raise vaccination rates among the elderly, stock up relevant medications and testing kits, build more hospital and intensive care beds and implement triaged treatment protocols.
Jiao Yahui, head of the commission's medical administration bureau, said on Tuesday that China currently has about 5.6 million hospital beds at secondary and tertiary hospitals, and their occupancy rate stands around 60 percent in recent days.
The number of intensive care beds nationwide has risen to 150,000, or 10.6 ICU beds per 100,000 people, and their occupancy rate fluctuates around 55 to 60 percent recently. Besides, 70,000 regular beds can be quickly converted to ICU beds across the country.
"We will continue to monitor epidemic situation and renovate or expand medical resources based on latest circumstances to secure demands of people," she said.
The commission added that health monitoring and services will be ramped up for people aged 65 and above, and control measures at elderly care and social welfare facilities can be intensified to prevent major outbreaks.
Medical aid targeting the rural areas will be strengthened by facilitating transferring of patients, pairing local health clinics with larger hospitals and helping them stockpiling medical equipment.
Li Qun, head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention's emergency operations center, said that whether to further downgrade management of novel coronavirus to category C — the lowest level that comprises of influenza flu and other common infectious diseases — will primarily depend on if the virus's pathogenicity will continue to decline.