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Nation to take more decisive measures on virus control

By WANG XIAOYU | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-05-17 07:55
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An elderly woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot at a community in Beijing's Haidian district on March 14, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

China will take more resolute and faster actions to screen and isolate COVID-19 risk groups and implement regular nucleic acid tests to reinforce its defense against the Omicron variant, said Ma Xiaowei, minister of the National Health Commission.

The country will accelerate research on Omicron-specific vaccines and advance the administering of booster shots among the elderly, he said in a signed article published on Monday in Qiushi Journal, the flagship magazine of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.

The article was released following a top Party leadership meeting on May 5 that reiterated China's commitment to its dynamic zero-COVID strategy as the country battles a severe wave of outbreaks that have hit Jilin province and Shanghai the hardest.

Ma said China's adherence to strict control of the virus is determined by the nature and purpose of the Party. "The Party has always put the interests of the people first, and the safety and health of our people are the priority while formulating disease control policies and evaluating outcomes," he said.

"That also explains the fundamental reason for our decision to take a different approach to tackling the virus from that of some Western countries," Ma added.

The World Health Organization estimates that by the end of last year, about 15 million people had died from the virus or its impact on overwhelmed health systems. Data released recently by the United States and the European Union also showed decreases in average life expectancy after the virus emerged.

However, in China, a developing country with a large population, the rates of COVID-19 infection and death have been kept at the lowest level worldwide, and average life expectancy rose steadily in the past two years, according to Ma.

"The Omicron variant is neither a 'natural vaccine' nor 'a larger size of flu'," he said. "We must fully understand the massive toll that will result from abandoning our disease control measures or coexisting with the virus.

He stressed that the focus of manpower and resources should be on preventing new cases. "Otherwise, treatment capacity will be under great pressure, threatening the health of those with underlying diseases, the elderly and other vulnerable groups," he said.

As Jilin is at the closing phase of its fight against the virus and the epidemic in Shanghai is stabilizing and trending downward, Ma said China has withstood the most strenuous test since the initial outbreak centered in Wuhan, Hubei province.

Faced with the continued threat of the fast-spreading Omicron variant, China will be more resolute in rolling out targeted control measures and isolating high-risk groups, as well as expediting mass screening and epidemiological investigations, Ma said.

Heightened caution must be taken to prevent large enterprises, construction sites, food markets, schools and nursery care institutions from becoming virus hot spots, he added.

"Currently, disease control efforts must be strengthened in Shanghai to clear infections and win the battle there," he said, adding that local outbreaks in Beijing and other key regions should also be handled swiftly to cut off community transmission.

In provincial capitals and cities with a population of over 10 million, nucleic acid tests should be available within 15 minutes' walk to facilitate weekly screening and frequent tests among key groups.

"Local authorities should also prepare sufficient designated hospitals, permanent makeshift hospitals and centralized quarantine facilities," he said. "Intensive care beds and first-aid personnel should also be increased."

Ma said clinical research and approval procedures for vaccines targeting Omicron will be expedited and booster shot campaigns will be advanced smoothly, with a focus on the elderly.

To ensure normal medical services, Ma said hospitals that have to halt operations out of virus concerns should first seek permission from local health authorities and should not be closed for longer than two days.

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