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China recalibrates its COVID-19 response strategy

China recalibrates its COVID-19 response strategy

BEIJING, Dec. 12, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — After months of lining up every two to three days to take a nucleic acid test at temporary testing stations dotting the urban landscape, many Chinese residents were pleasantly surprised to learn on December 7 that they would no longer be required to take the test.

Patrons enjoy onsite dining in Beijing on December 6 (WEI YAO)
Patrons enjoy onsite dining in Beijing on December 6 (WEI YAO)

The news came after China issued a notice on 10 new measures to further optimize its COVID-19 response that same day.

The notice stated nucleic acid testing should be carried out among people in high-risk positions and areas in accordance with relevant regulations and offered to those willing to take a test.

Mindful of virus mutations and the need to lessen the overall impact of COVID-19 flareups on economic activity and daily life, various levels of government have made a flurry of adjustments to their pandemic control measures recently following heated public debate on how to strike the delicate balance between COVID-19 control and normal life.

The notice on December 7 has eased related restrictions on social and economic activities. It stated that a negative test result or health code is no longer needed except for entering special institutions such as nursing homes, welfare institutions, medical institutions, kindergartens or primary and middle schools. Interregional travel, too, no longer requires them. Important Party and government organs, large enterprises and a number of special places can determine their own prevention and control measures. Beijing, Shanghai and a few others still require 48-hour negative test results for entering restaurants, bars, etc. It’s not a general rule.

Asymptomatic cases and those with mild symptoms may quarantine at home, while they can also choose to be quarantined and treated in centralized facilities, according to the notice.

At the onset of the pandemic, the Chinese Government took a dynamic zero-COVID approach to contain the virus, with non-pharmacological interventions, such as lockdowns and mass testing, as the mainstay of control measures for the virus outbreak. While these measures did result in some loss of economic vitality, they did also largely protect the general population from contracting the virus.

More than 90 percent of Chinese people have been fully vaccinated and the public’s health awareness has been significantly improved, while the pathogenicity of the Omicron virus is weakening, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan’s said, adding all these factors have created the right conditions for adjusting COVID-19 response measures.

Although the dominant strain of Omicron and its subvariants have proved to be milder than the original novel coronavirus and the Delta strain, people with preexisting conditions, seniors and unvaccinated people are still likely to develop severe symptoms.

As of November 28, the mainland had fully vaccinated over 1.27 billion people, and delivered booster shots to about 811 million, according to the National Health Commission. Yet the vaccination rate among senior residents remains significantly lower. Of people aged 60 and above, 86.4 percent had completed their primary vaccination; for those aged 80 and above, that number came to just 65.8 percent. About 181.5 million people aged 60 and above, and 14.5 million aged 80 and above, had received a booster shot.

In late November, the government released a work plan to step up vaccination among its senior population to protect this vulnerable group against COVID-19. It called for efforts to accelerate the increase of vaccination rates among people aged 80 and above and continue raising the rates among people aged between 60 and 79.

People visit the monkey enclosure at the Beijing Zoo on December 6 (WEI YAO)
People visit the monkey enclosure at the Beijing Zoo on December 6 (WEI YAO)

Teenagers take to an outdoor court for a game of basketball in Beijing on December 3 (WEI YAO)
Teenagers take to an outdoor court for a game of basketball in Beijing on December 3 (WEI YAO)