April 20, 2022
BEIJING – China has entered a new stage of its fight against the COVID-19 epidemic that calls for earlier detection and faster actions to cope with the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, Ma Xiaowei, minister of the National Health Commission, said.
Faced with the highly transmissible Omicron strain, the country should roll out the strictest, most thorough and resolute measures to coordinate comprehensive steps and cut transmission in the shortest possible time, he said in a signed article published on Monday.
Relaxing COVID-19 disease control measures will threaten to overstretch the country’s unevenly distributed medical systems and hurt its large number of seniors and vulnerable people, he said.
In the article, Ma made it clear that China has entered the fourth stage of its fight against the disease. The first three phases were: stemming out the epidemic centering in Hubei province; exploring and implementing regular disease control measures; and initiating the dynamic zero-COVID strategy.
While urging unswerving adherence to the dynamic zero-COVID strategy, Ma said upgraded measures are needed in the current stage, such as adding antigen tests to mass screening campaigns and expanding the capacity of quarantine facilities and makeshift hospitals.
The article was published on Study Times, a newspaper administered by the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. It comes at a time when China is battling a severe wave of COVID-19 outbreaks fueled by the highly infectious Omicron variant, and its economic powerhouse Shanghai has been confronting surging infections for weeks.
As the recent epidemic triggered debates over the rationality of persisting with the dynamic clearance approach, Ma said it is essential to take a clear-cut stand against erroneous thoughts such as “coexisting with the virus” or “the novel coronavirus is becoming flu-like.”
“We must continue to improve our disease control measures and achieve the goal of cutting transmission in communities in the most determined, resolute and comprehensive manner,” he said.
The fundamental goal of adopting the dynamic zero-COVID policy has always been safeguarding the health of our people, he said.
China’s national conditions — home to the world’s largest population, uneven development across vast amounts of land and a shortage of overall healthcare resources — have determined that easing disease control measures in the face of frequent COVID-19 resurgences will take a heavy toll on people’s lives and social and economic development, he said.
“If we abandon prevention efforts and relax treatment measures, China’s medical systems will be overwhelmed and the health of its large number of people with underlying illnesses, the elderly, children and pregnant women will be at risk,” he said.
“Such consequences will not be accepted by our people, nor will it be allowed to happen under the leadership of the Party and government,” he said.
Upgraded measures needed
Ma also stressed the need to tailor disease control tool kits to cope with the current principle strain of Omicron that transmits in a faster and more covert way than the Delta strain, its predecessor.
Because a large proportion of Omicron cases are asymptomatic, China’s monitoring defense against COVID-19 should be strengthened.
“In addition to fever sentinel clinics, mass screening of key groups and rapid reports, we should make full use of the rapid and convenient antigen tests and integrate the method with nucleic acid testing,” he said.
As the fast-spreading Omicron can lead to a spike in new cases in a short period, Ma said the shortage of quarantine sites and temporary hospitals – the most acute problem at the moment – must be addressed.
Only when sufficient isolation facilities are provided and when all asymptomatic and mild patients are admitted into makeshift hospitals will we be able to effectively control Omicron outbreaks while guaranteeing smooth and consistent provision of normal medical services, he said.
To further relieve burden on healthcare systems, Ma requires the timely triage of COVID-19 patients. He clarifies that people who show pneumonia symptoms, suffer chronic diseases, the elderly and children should be admitted into designated hospitals.
“Mild and symptom-free cases should be received by makeshift hospitals and recovered patients should return home for self-isolation, so as to prevent them from taking up daily hospital resources,” he said.
In the meantime, Ma stressed that heightened attention should be given to meet normal medication and healthcare demands of the people.
“General hospitals, children’s hospitals and maternal and child care health centers should provide regular services as usual (during a local outbreak),” he said, adding that special channels in locked-down areas should be provided for people in need and that those with chronic diseases or in critical conditions should be arranged to go to a hospital.