Health officials double down on strengthening hospital network, vow to speed vaccination rate
Published: Nov 17, 2022 09:52 PM
A Shanghai resident receives inhaled COVID-19 vaccine as a booster dose on October 26, 2022. Shanghai became the first city in China to provide this type of vaccine boosters. Photo: VCG

A Shanghai resident receives inhaled COVID-19 vaccine as a booster dose on October 26, 2022. Shanghai became the first city in China to provide this type of vaccine boosters. Photo: VCG

China's top health officials on Thursday stressed enhancing medical resources to upgrade the country's ability to fight COVID-19 flare-ups, and vowed to push forward the vaccination campaign, two steps epidemiologists believe are needed for further adjustment of anti-epidemic policies.

At a Thursday conference, Guo Yanhong, a senior official from the National Health Commission, said that establishing intensive care units (ICU) should be enhanced, noting that ICU beds will be required to account for 10 percent of the total number of hospital beds. She also said building of makeshift hospitals should be strengthened, for the treatment of patients with mild symptoms and silent carriers. 

When asked when BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccines will be available for the Chinese public, Shen Hongbing, deputy director of the National Administration of Disease Prevention and Control, said that safety, effectiveness, availability and affordability should be considered during vaccination, and China is making plans to speed up its vaccination campaign.

China released 20 optimized measures last week, which include a shortening of centralized quarantine times for close contacts and travelers from abroad from seven days to five days. Officials urged against frequent testing in areas with no infections.

Meanwhile, the country is witnessing a ballooning daily number of cases. Nationwide, a total of 2,328 confirmed COVID-19 cases and another 20,888 silent carriers were reported for Wednesday, with cities such as Guangzhou, Beijing and Chongqing hit the hardest. 

In response to a surging number of cases, Guangzhou officials said on Thursday the city has built more than 240,000 beds in makeshift hospitals and boarding houses for isolation.

How to properly implement the optimized measures and at the same time bring COVID-19 surges under control poses a problem for governments in areas where the virus is rife, an expert from China's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who requested anonymity, told the Global Times. He warned that the optimized measures should not be interpreted as "full relaxation" and "lying flat."

The expert also emphasized strengthening hospital networks and speeding vaccination, especially among vulnerable groups, as local governments' priorities in addition to virus control. The Chinese mainland should strive to avoid what happened in Hong Kong this year, when the fifth wave took roughly 10,000 lives, so major policy adjustments will not happen until the country is fully prepared, according to the CDC expert. 

Speaking at a conference on Thursday, Zhang Boli, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said there will be further tweaks of COVID-19 policies, as the incubation period of the virus has shortened and cases are less severe. Any adjustment of policies will be based on protecting people's health, said Zhang.

Zhang's conclusion is backed by statistics from hard-hit Guangzhou, Chongqing and Beijing. In Guangzhou, two severe cases have been reported among more than 30,000 infections since the middle of October. Two serious patients were recorded in Beijing among more than 1,100 cases during this round of flare-ups, and three out of 8,000 more were recorded in Chongqing.

The CDC expert said that the low number of severe cases partly reflects the virus' mutations, as well as virus control measures across the country. 

"Once we let our guard down, cases will overwhelm hospitals, and that will lead to a surge in the number of severe cases," he warned.