China’s COVID fight a guidebook for the future

Antivirus battle underlined advantages of nation's political system, officials say

A citizen receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Yinchuan, capital city of Northwest China's Ningxia Hui autonomous region. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

China took the lead in sharing COVID-19 information and virus control experience, as well as in supplying vaccines and sending medical teams, during the global fight against the disease, experts and officials said on Monday, after the World Health Organization announced the downgrading of the pandemic last week.

The nation's antivirus battle also demonstrated advantages of its political system and capabilities of its medical professionals, researchers and grassroots workers, which can help guide the handling of other contagious diseases in the future, they added.

On Friday, the WHO announced that COVID-19 no longer qualifies as a public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC, more than three years after it was declared a pandemic.

Liang Wannian, head of the National Health Commission's epidemic emergency response expert panel, said that when the first domestic COVID-19 cases emerged in Wuhan, Hubei province, in December 2019, China reported them to the WHO at the earliest possible time, and later promptly identified the pathogen and shared genome sequences with the rest of the world, as well as published treatment and disease control protocols.

"China offered scientific evidence to aid the global community's efforts in developing vaccines and testing kits to tackle the disease," he said.

The country provided antivirus gear, including respirators, protective clothing and masks, for 153 countries and 15 international organizations, and sent 37 expert teams to 34 countries.

"As the first country to pledge making COVID-19 vaccines'a global public good' and also the first to cooperate with developing nations to manufacture vaccines, China supplied over 2.2 billion doses (of vaccines) to more than 120 countries and international groups," Liang said.

Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said, "China not only protected … its own people but also functioned as a key supplier of virus control materials and the backbone of the global fight against COVID-19."

The nation fended off more than 100 local outbreaks, with its institutional advantages and the commitment of the whole society playing a pivotal role.

"The fundamental rule for and the prerequisite of all our virus control strategies is putting lives and the health of our people above everything else," Liang said, adding that joint public efforts and the dedication of health workers helped the nation prevail in its fight against the virus.

"From vaccine research to development of testing equipment, our scientific capabilities have also improved greatly," Liang said, emphasizing the deployment of big data and artificial intelligence tools to increase the efficiency of tracking and managing infections.

"Over the past three years, China has formulated relatively smooth and effective community management systems and accumulated experience at the grassroots level," he said. "These will play a greater role in handling other public health emergencies and in curbing chronic diseases."

Experts noted that the WHO's decision to downgrade COVID-19's public health emergency status does not mean that there should be complacency toward implementing virus control measures.

Liu Qing, an official from the National Administration of Disease Prevention and Control, said the threat of COVID-19 still remains, as eased restrictions could promote global travel and accelerate the spread of the virus.

According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the highly transmissible XBB variant has become the dominant strain on the mainland, with its percentage among total COVID-19 infections rising from 0.2 in mid-February to 74.4 in April.

China will use its multichannel surveillance systems, which cover viral mutation, fever clinics, sentinel hospitals, urban sewage systems and communities, to closely monitor the domestic and global epidemic trajectory, Liu said.

"It is also important to step up monitoring of imported cases and novel variants to reduce the risks of them triggering large-scale outbreaks," he said.

Special attention will be paid to schools, senior care homes and social welfare centers, Liu said, adding that vaccination among the elderly, people who have never been infected and those who have not completed primary immunization will be strengthened.