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Expert says China's dynamic zero-COVID policy can defeat the epidemic

By WANG XIAOYU | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2022-04-29 15:02
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China can defeat the COVID-19 epidemic by seizing the window of opportunity created by its dynamic clearance strategy to accelerate vaccination, ramp up emergency response capacity and expand the use of effective medications, a senior health expert said on Friday.

The risk of a COVID-19-related death, also associated with unpredictable virus mutations, must be reduced to "an acceptable range", Liang Wannian, head of the National Health Commission's virus control expert panel, said at a news conference held by the State Council Information Office.

The dynamic zero-COVID approach that aims at managing new local outbreaks in the shortest possible time has shielded most people in China from the harm of the disease and allowed normal production and lives in most regions, he said.

Amid the global race to build herd immunity, this strategy determines that China is on track to achieve population immunity largely through vaccination, rather than a mix of vaccine-induced and infection-induced immunity as seen in some foreign countries, Liang add.

"Compared to the uncontrollable, passive method, we believe our method of actively building an immunity barrier is better," he said.

However, China also needs to upgrade and improve its virus control measures to seize the window of opportunity to cope with the highly contagious Omicron variant.

At the forefront of tasks mentioned by Liang is boosting vaccination rates among the elderly.

As of Thursday, nearly 1.25 billion people in China, or over 88 percent of its total population, had been fully vaccinated, and 750 million had received a booster shot, according to Lei Zhenglong, deputy director of the commission's Bureau of Disease Prevention and Control.

The coverage of primary vaccination among people aged 60 and above was lower at about 81 percent, and only 160 million of them had received a booster, he added.

"The inoculation rate among the elderly is gradually increasing," he said, adding that concerted efforts have been devoted to intensifying education campaigns as well as guaranteeing safety and convenient vaccination services for seniors.

To prevail over the virus, Liang also stressed stepping up local preparedness in medical resources, quarantine facilities, effective drugs and supplies of key materials.

In terms of medical treatment capability, he said health authorities have made it clear that in cities with a population of around 1 to 5 million, the total number of hospital beds at designated COVID-19 hospitals should be no less than 500.

The requirement is set at 1,000 beds for big cities with 5 to 10 million inhabitants, and 1,500 beds for megacities with over 10 million inhabitants.

"Also, the number of beds designed for receiving severe patients should take up no less than 10 percent of all beds," he said. "Local governments are also required to set up backup hospitals that can be refitted into qualified treatment facilities within 24 hours to meet demands."

Apart from the designated COVID-19 hospitals, local governments are also urged to speed up the construction of makeshift hospitals for asymptomatic and mild cases. As of Monday, there had been nearly 400 makeshift hospitals across China, housing over 560,000 beds, Liang said.

He added that the country is improving its intensive care resources by adding more equipment and strengthening the training of healthcare workers.

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