China has entered a new phase of epidemic prevention and control after it downgraded the management of COVID-19 response into Class B infectious diseases. "The overall situation of epidemic response is good nationwide," according to a meeting held by the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee on February 16.
Current situation of COVID-19 in China
Seen from the latest data released by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), the number of positive nucleic acid tests in China has been basically at a downward trend as of March 16, dropping below 8,000 cases for over a week.
Infections from the epidemic are still occurring in China at a localized and sporadic level, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the China CDC, said at an interview in early March.
No one can tell how COVID-19 will eventually play out, said Wu, adding that the novel coronavirus will coexist with humans on Earth for a long time.
Zhan Qingyuan, deputy director at the Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine of the China-Japan Friendship Hospital (CJFH), reiterated the same to CGTN: "People may have to live with the microorganism, as we can't kill all the coronavirus."
As the COVID-19 epidemic has "basically ended" in the country, the hospital has been operating at pre-epidemic level amid a surge of seasonal influenza, of which the positive rate of influenza virus has increased to 53.2 percent in the week from March 6 to 12, far above the data in early February – lower than 1 percent, according to statistics from the China CDC.
Zhan advised the elderly and those with underlying conditions to get vaccinated, and to keep handy a thermometer, antigen reagents and COVID-19 drugs. "I recommend taking medicine once the nucleic acid test is positive, because the earlier the drugs against COVID-19 is used, the better the effect is."
Preparations still being made for COVID-19
Everything in China is back to normal, while key institutions like the hospitals are still getting prepared.
Amid seasonal influenza, Zhong Lintao, director at the Nosocomial Infections Management Office of the CJFH, said that doctors at the hospital's fever clinic have triaged patients based on the severity of their condition, instead of results of nucleic acid tests in the past three years.
In addition, the hospital is also dedicated to daily infection prevention and control, according to Zhong, "For example, we provide guidance on personal protection for medical staff and patients, clean and disinfect frequently touched items on a daily basis to prevent the spread of the virus in medical institutions."
Zhong said they have accumulated much experience in the last round of the COVID-19 epidemic and can transform from normal operations to rapid response to a disease outbreak, including allocating medical personnel to the fever clinic, emergency department and wards, and storing medicines and medical devices.
"We will also expand the capacity of the emergency department by transforming specialist wards in other departments to treat severe cases once there is a need," said Zhong.
The hospital converted a building into wards to care for critically-ill COVID-19 patients last December, and although normal service has resumed, Zhong said they can convert it into wards again quickly if needed.
Strengthening weak links
China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), National Health Commission and six other departments have issued a notice and deployed relative work on consolidating major achievements of epidemic prevention and control, and strengthening the weak links in urban and rural medical and health care and environmental protection, said Liu Dechun, director at the NDRC's Department of Resource Conservation and Environmental Protection, at a media conference last Thursday.
According to Liu, China will strengthen the capacity of epidemic surveillance and regular early warning and response systems, and improve health monitoring facilities and capacity in key institutions such as medical and elderly care institutions, and large shopping malls.
It also urged to coordinate and allocate medical supplies and resources, and to build a tiered, multi-level, and referral-based healthcare system in a regular manner and build three-tiered healthcare networks –the primary, secondary and tertiary hospitals – with public medical institutions as the mainstay, according to Liu.
Liu said that the country will improve sanitation facilities in crowded places and carry out environmental health governance in places like urban villages and farmers' markets.