China's National Health Commission (NHC) released a circular on Friday, announcing 20 new measures to further optimize the country's COVID-19 control policy.
The new measures include cutting quarantine period for close contacts of confirmed cases and inbound travelers, according to the announcement.
Lei Haichao, deputy head of the NHC, said that the new measures are aimed at effectively containing the virus while minimizing its impact on economic and social development and public services crucial to people's lives.
The measures can help divert limited epidemic response resources to the people and areas with higher risks of virus transmission, Lei noted, adding that by doing so, outbreaks can be contained as quickly as possible with minimum expense.
These measures may change further as the pandemic evolves, said Wang Liping, a researcher from the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adding that the measures are based on "new characteristics of the virus" and "statistical proof gathered from real-world control works."
For inbound travelers
For inbound travelers, the circuit-breaker mechanism, which bans flight routes if inbound international flights carry COVID-19 cases, has been canceled.
The pre-departure COVID-19 tests requirement for inbound travelers has been reduced from twice in 48 hours to once.
Inbound important business travelers and sports groups will also be directly transferred to closed-loop management areas, exempt from quarantine.
Inbound travelers with a cycle threshold value (CT value) below 35 should be deemed "positive," and a risk assessment should be carried out on individuals whose CT value is between 35 and 40 after centralized isolation is lifted, according to the announcement.
In addition, quarantine for inbound travelers has been cut to five days at centralized facilities and three days at home, down from the previous "7+3+ scheme, according to the announcement.
For domestic travelers
Quarantine for close contacts will be cut to five days at designated sites plus three days at home, also down from the previous "7+3" scheme.
Individuals will also no longer be deemed as close contacts of COVID-19 close contacts.
Those who had visited high-risk areas will be subject to seven days of home quarantine instead of seven days in centralized isolation as previously required.
The risk areas have been adjusted from the three categories of "high, medium and low" to the two categories of "high and low."
Only homes, workplaces and areas often frequented by someone infected will be deemed high-risk, and all other areas are low-risk. The high-risk areas should mostly be confined to residential units or blocks, and cannot be extended at will.
The nucleic acid testing won't be carried out according to administrative regions, but only when the source of infection and transmission chain are unclear and the transmission time in the community is long and the epidemic situation is unclear.
The circular also required more efforts in reinforcing medical resources, including adding more hospital beds and ICU beds to better prepare for the potential increase in patients.
Vaccination against COVID-19 should be advanced in an orderly manner, it said, calling for efforts to speed up the coverage of booster vaccination, especially for the elderly.
In addition, the protection of key institutions and vulnerable groups against the virus should also be improved.
To curb the scale and reduce the response time of the epidemic, the principle of early detection, reporting, quarantine, and treatment should be strictly observed, said the announcement.
Addressing outstanding problems
It also stated that local governments shouldn't take these new measures as a one-size-fits-all approach in every instance, strengthening services to ensure those in quarantine have minimal interruptions to their lives.
The document underscored the necessity to optimize COVID-19 prevention and control measures at campuses, in enterprises and industrial parks and stressed the need to help those stranded to return home in an orderly manner.