China modifies COVID diagnosis and treatment guideline
Updated 22:56, 06-Jan-2023
Cao Qingqing, Gong Zhe
A COVID-19 antigen test kit. /CFP
A COVID-19 antigen test kit. /CFP

A COVID-19 antigen test kit. /CFP

China further updated its COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment protocol on Friday, making changes such as adding a positive antigen test result as a criteria for determining a COVID-19 case.

The new guideline, jointly released by the National Health Commission (NHC) and the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, is the tenth version since January 2020, as the country has constantly adjusted its COVID-19 measures to make them more scientific and targeted.

Compared with the previous version, the new protocol  features several key changes:

Renaming of the disease

The protocol reaffirmed the renaming of the disease from "novel coronavirus pneumonia" to "novel coronavirus infection" in Chinese. The renaming was first announced by the State Council joint prevention and control mechanism against COVID-19 in late December 2022.

The new name more accurately describes the characteristics of the disease caused by the current dominant Omicron variant with declining pathogenicity, according to the NHC. The most common symptoms of the infected people include cough, fever and sore throat, while only a small proportion of cases develop pneumonia.

This is in contrast with the situation in the early stage of the virus outbreak, when the majority of the cases had pneumonia-like symptoms.

Antigen tests for diagnosing COVID-19

Prior to the release of the new protocol, in China, a COVID-19 infection was confirmed by a laboratory PCR test, which uses specialist equipment and often takes 24 hours to produce a result. Now, a positive antigen test result has also been added as a criteria for determining a COVID-19 case.

Antigen tests are easy to perform, which do not require a specialist operator or setting. The tests can produce results within 10 to 15 minutes, and are usually more accurate when they are used in people with high viral load.

Considering most infected cases choose to recover at home, antigen tests are convenient for people to do quick self-tests at home.

No longer identifying suspected cases

At present, COVID-19 infections can be diagnosed in a rapid and accurate manner through PCR tests or antigen tests. Therefore, the country will no long identify suspected cases, further improving the efficiency of clinical diagnosis and treatment of confirmed patients.

No more mass quarantine

The new guideline completely removed the requirement for mass quarantine, as COVID-19 now belongs to a lower-tier category of diseases.

Infected people can choose home quarantine or go to hospital depending on the severity of their symptoms.

All health facilities are now allowed to receive COVID-19 patients.

Optimized treatments 

China has added more medicines to treat the disease, allowing more kinds of antiviral drugs to be used.

The criteria for severe and critical cases have been optimized, while unvaccinated senior people now count as a high-risk group.

A person's blood oxygen saturation level has been added as an early indicator of risk.

The new guideline also provided more suggestions on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) treatment of severe and critical cases. Acupuncture is listed as a treatment for children.

Easier to leave hospital

Under the new guideline, people under inpatient care will find it easier to leave hospital, as the requirement for negative PCR test results has been removed. Doctors now can determine if a patient can be discharged.

A COVID-19 patient can leave the inpatient department if his or her body temperature has been normal for more than 24 hours, lung conditions become significantly better, medicine treatment can be applied and no complication needs to be taken care of. 

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