China achieves a major, decisive victory against COVID epidemic
Policy adjustment, optimization help achieve stable transition; ‘unlikely to see’ new mass infection waves
Published: Feb 16, 2023 07:32 PM Updated: Feb 16, 2023 10:45 PM
People enjoy the Spring Festival at Qianmen Street in Beijing on January 27, 2023. Photo: IC

People enjoy the Spring Festival at Qianmen Street in Beijing on January 27, 2023. Photo: IC

China has achieved a major and decisive victory in its COVID-19 prevention and control since November 2022, and created a miracle of a populous country in the history of human civilization to successfully walk out of the pandemic, and the country's COVID policy adjustment and optimization helped achieve a stable transition and keep the overall death rate at the lowest level worldwide, Chinese top leadership said on Thursday. 

A meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee presided over by Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, on Thursday pointed out that over the past three years, China's epidemic prevention procedure has been extraordinary. The country optimized and adjusted epidemic prevention and control measures in accordance to the circumstance, effectively coordinating epidemic prevention and control with economic and social development. 

China's COVID response helped us successfully avoid the widespread prevalence of more virulent and highly lethal viral strains, effectively protect the safety and health of the public and gain previous time for winning the COVID battle, the meeting said. 

The country's optimized COVID management since November 2022 has realized smooth transition of the anti-epidemic work, with more than 200 million people receiving treatment, 800,000 severe cases been effectively treated, and the COVID death rate has remained at the lowest level in the world. 

The practice proved the CPC's major judgment and policy decision on the COVID fight is completely correct and those measures were powerful which the Chinese public fully recognized and its achievement is huge, according to the meeting. 

Some Chinese experts believe that the declaration also marked that the country has walked out of the pandemic and the epidemic is turning into an endemic. As the most populous country now witnesses its society back to normalcy with economic activities recovering quickly, the prospect for the world to see the pandemic over "is in sight." 

"After experiencing the infection waves in December and January, the Chinese society is now back to normal and people have walked out of the pandemic status, which is also in line with the public expectation," an expert close to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who preferred not to be named, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

It also means that we have started a process where the disease became a common respiratory infection disease that won't trigger extra public attention and people will take it with sense of normalcy, the expert said. "It marks that we have entered the process of endemic," he said. 

Decisive victory 

Chinese health officials and experts said recently that the nationwide COVID-19 situation has generally become stable. Although a new wave of mass infections is unlikely to occur in the coming months, schools and rural areas will be the next priority for epidemic control.

In the past three years, in response to the constantly changing situation of the epidemic, China has issued 10 editions of COVID-19 control protocols, and avoided the large-scale spreading of the original strain and Delta strain with strong pathogenicity, reducing deaths and severe illness from COVID-19. 

Compared with three years ago, the pathogenicity of the Omicron strain has significantly weakened. "We have more knowledge of the virus and more types of antiviral drugs as well as experience in treating COVID-19 with traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine," Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist with the China CDC, said at a recent press conference. 

There is only a "trifling possibility" that a new wave of COVID-19 epidemic infections will emerge in the coming months in China, as the population's immunity remains at a high level, Wu said.  

We have successfully weathered the massive exit wave before the Spring Festival holidays, and despite many feared that the infection could rebound after the festival, it did not, Li Tongzeng, director of the infection department of Beijing Youan Hospital, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

"We also did not see the emergence of newly and more dangerous variants; also the case of patients with severe symptoms and death cases are declining," Li said, noting that the country also acquired a robust hybrid immunity generated by natural infection and vaccination in the past few months, so another outbreak is unlikely to occur in the near future. 

On Wednesday, the China CDC released the latest situation of the COVID infection, saying that the number of in-hospital deaths dropped to 9 on Monday, down 99.8 percent from the peak. Since December 9, 2022, the number of reported positive cases have increased then kept declining. It reached the peak of 6.94 million on December 22 and dropped to 8,847 on Monday. 

Turn into endemic 

Some experts believe that as China has stepped out of the epidemic, treating COVID-19 as endemic, the WHO will likely announce the end of the COVID-19 pandemic as a global health emergency soon. 

While the China CDC is actively monitoring infection situation across the country, the country will be safely prevented from suffering another outbreak of new variants at least in the coming months.

Lu Hongzhou, head of the Third People's Hospital of Shenzhen, told the Global Times on Thursday that another major COVID-19 epidemic is unlikely to occur in China within six months, based on previous studies which has indicated that cellular immunity is still high generally after around six and seven months after infection.

Lu believes that the effective vaccination and the timely use of anti-viral medicines would be key factors to prevent severe cases and reduce fatality rate.

According to the China CDC, there have been more than 83,000 COVID-19 related deaths in hospitals in the Chinese mainland from December 8 to February 9, but the number of deaths and positive cases has been declining this year.

Although the overall epidemic prevention and control situation has been improving, given that the global pandemic is still ongoing, all places and department need to summarize on the three-year experiences and implement epidemic control in the new phase in order to further consolidate the hard-won result, the meeting said. 

The meeting also required to strengthen capacity building for epidemic monitoring and regular early warning, improve the epidemic monitoring system and information reporting system, make timely and accurate early warning while planning the next-phase vaccination work in boosting vaccination rate among the elderly.