Victorious but remain vigilant of COVID-19, China looks ahead
First Voice
Victorious but remain vigilant of COVID-19, China looks ahead

Editor's note: CGTN's First Voice provides instant commentary on breaking stories. The column clarifies emerging issues and better defines the news agenda, offering a Chinese perspective on the latest global events.

How do you evaluate "success" in managing a public health crisis? The number of lives saved is the ultimate and clearest scale for judgement. With this in mind, don't 200 million receiving medical treatment, nearly 800,000 seriously ill patients effectively cured and the lowest death rates in the world constitute a "success"?

The figures above describe what has happened in China since November, 2022. On February 16, the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee said at a meeting that China has achieved a "major and decisive victory" in its COVID-19 prevention and control since November, 2022. With the continuous optimization of COVID-19 measures, China has made a smooth transition in a relatively short time. The meeting described it as a "miracle" for such a highly populated country to successfully pull through a pandemic of this scale.

It is indeed a miracle. Take the Spring Festival travel this year for example. 1.5 billion trips were made by rail, highway, water and civil aviation in a 40-day holiday travel rush. These trips were made only a couple of months since the series of optimizations made in November and December 2022. While many speculated that China would see a spike in cases after the travel, no spikes have been detected as people resumed a full work schedule.

"We also did not see the emergence of newly and more dangerous variants; while the case of patients with severe symptoms and death cases are also declining," Li Tongzeng, director of the infection department of Beijing Youan Hospital, told the Global Times.

It took China three years of hard work and heavy sacrifices to get to this point, with the country unshackled from the necessities to impose lockdowns and the people free to travel internally and abroad. It is a victory. But as the meeting described it, it is a "major and decisive" one, not a complete one.

Pedestrians walk and hold food at a night market in Ruili, west Yunnan Province, January 13, 2023. /CFP
Pedestrians walk and hold food at a night market in Ruili, west Yunnan Province, January 13, 2023. /CFP

Pedestrians walk and hold food at a night market in Ruili, west Yunnan Province, January 13, 2023. /CFP

Currently, the global pandemic is still raging. It was widely speculated that the World Health Organization might end the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) at the end of January, but it didn't. In Dr. Charles Ng's interview with First Voice, he said that the pandemic in richer countries has plateaued, but that's not the case for Africa and much of the developing world. "Shaky health infrastructure, under-trained healthcare workers, gear shortages, and oxygen shortages beset their people," he said.

The Standing Committee's meeting on February 16 also called for efforts to enhance COVID-19 monitoring and early warning capacity, and improve the systems for COVID-19 monitoring and information reporting. It also called for a scientific planning for the next phase of COVID-19 vaccines "based on the mutation of the novel coronavirus and the efficacy of protection offered by the vaccines."

Medical experts have mostly agreed that the cellular immunity generally remains high some six or seven months after the infection. But the ever-mutating virus itself and the full resumption of cross-border travel present a particular challenge for pandemic control in the future. There can be no certainty that the virus itself won't produce another dominating strain or flood-back later this year.

How to prepare for a future pandemic will be a long-term discussion for all countries around the world. As China managed a smooth transition out of three years of pandemic control measures, it’s crucial to remain vigilant about what could be on the horizon.

Only with that carefulness and watchfulness, would a "major and decisive victory" turn into a "complete" one.

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