Experts explain details in China's new phase of COVID-19 response
China has officially downgraded COVID-19 from Class A infectious disease to Class B since January 8, which signals that China's COVID-19 response has entered a new phase.
This raised questions about the current and future situation of COVID-19 control. Experts from government agencies talked with China Media Group (CMG) to explain the next steps of the country's management of the disease.
The worst is passing or has already passed for major cities in China, according to Jiao Yahui, head of the Bureau of Medical Administration under the National Health Commission (NHC).
"In large cities, the pressure on emergency department of hospitals is easing," she said. "But there's a high number of severe cases being treated."
Small- and medium-sized cities and rural areas are likely to experience a peak of emergency and severe cases during the Spring Festival travel rush, she added.
Generally, Jiao told CMG she doesn't expect another peak of infection after the festival, but medical facilities should get ready for a possible peak of severe cases.
About eight percent of all Omicron cases in 2022 were classed as moderate cases with symptoms of pneumonia, Jiao said.
"The percentage seems small," she said. "But that's still a large group of people as China has a huge population."
Strengthened monitoring plan
Apart from treating the COVID-19 patients, the Chinese government also released a new epidemic surveillance plan, using data from hospitals, testing facilities and sentinel surveillance sites to track and evaluate the progress of the epidemic.
"We can research the incidence, intensity, trend and timing of the epidemic, and evaluate the effectiveness of our control measures," said Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
So far, China has set up more than 500 sentinel surveillance sites across the country.
Wu said the CDC also monitored key institutions like nursing homes as well as respiratory symptoms in school students.
Downgrading is not laissez-faire
As the disease was downgraded, the government now requires less prevention and control measures according to law.
With that said, downgrading is "definitely not laissez-faire," Liang Wannian, head of the COVID-19 response expert panel under the NHC, told CMG.
The law still requires stipulated prevention and control measures, including reporting cases, management and treatment of patients, and necessary public health and social interventions and monitoring, according to Liang.
For such a major infectious disease, the government cannot deal with it alone, Liang said, calling for joint efforts by all parties.
"Of course, while the government is taking the leading role, everyone still must do their job," he said.
(Cover: Doctors check on a patient in a hospital in Dongguan City, south China's Guangdong Province, January 6, 2023. /CFP)