China issues monkeypox prevention plan; experts expect cases to grow in July, but large-scale outbreak 'unlikely'
Published: Jul 27, 2023 09:23 PM


China issued a monkeypox prevention and control plan to optimize the country's measures against the infectious disease. The move comes amid growing monkeypox cases reported nationwide since June, leading to comparatively high risk of a domestic epidemic and hidden transmission, according to the National Administration of Disease Prevention and Control.

The plan was jointly released by the administration and the National Health Commission on Wednesday. It calls for multi-channel effective monitoring of medical institutes, key groups and international arrivals. Sewage monitoring can also be conducted in order to help discover and deal with the epidemic in a timely manner, according to the plan.

Local health and disease control departments, together with relevant social organizations, should fully draw on the experience and service model of comprehensive intervention for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and carry out peer education at key activity venues such as bars, clubs, and baths frequented by men who have sex with men (MSM), reads the plan.

The plan also suggests people leaving China pay attention to the monkeypox  situation at their destinations. For international arrivals who have suspicious contact history in areas with monkeypox reports, the plan recommends they conduct self-health monitoring for 21 days after entering China, avoid close contact with others and take the initiative to seek medical attention and truthfully report their epidemiological history if monkeypox-like symptoms - such as fever, rash, and lymphadenopathy - appear.

The Chinese mainland reported 106 new cases of monkeypox from June 2 to June 30 with zero severe illnesses or deaths, the National Administration of Disease Prevention and Control announced on July 14, noting the possibility of the disease spreading widely is low. 

All 106 cases were men, among which 101 were MSM, according to Shi Guoqing, a deputy director of the administration.

Li Tongzeng, chief physician of the Respiratory and Infectious Diseases Department at Beijing You'an Hospital, estimated that the reports of monkeypox cases in China will continue to grow in July and cover more places.   

In 2022, when an outbreak of monkeypox appeared suddenly and rapidly spread across Europe and the Americas, most Asian countries were still under strict COVID-19 restrictions. This year, as Asian countries, including China, have also relaxed their COVID-19 management and personnel exchanges have fully resumed without any limitations, cases have started to climb in the region, Li told the Global Times. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), from January 1, 2022, to July 24, 2023, a total of 88,600 laboratory confirmed cases and 1,087 probable cases, including 152 deaths, have been reported in 113 member states across all six WHO regions.

WHO declared monkeypox outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) in July 2022 and announced the end of the situation in May 2023. WHO assesses the current global risk of monkeypox outbreak as moderate. Regionally, it assesses the risk as moderate in the African Region, Eastern Mediterranean Region, European Region and Region of the Americas, and low in the South-East Asia Region and Western Pacific Region. 

Chinese experts also noted that the risk of a large-scale monkeypox epidemic in the country is low.

The main channel of transmission of monkeypox is limited to sexual or intimate contact and, at present, the main infected population is men having sex with other men, Li explained.     

He also noted that monkeypox usually clears up after 3-4 weeks. It is widely thought that antibodies after infection can protect people for more than 10 years, according to Li.       

Li stressed that the most important prevention and control measure is that key groups avoid dangerous sexual or intimate contact.

China is also actively promoting research and development of vaccines against monkeypox. An application for monkeypox vaccine clinical trials submitted by the China National Biotec Group (CNBG) was accepted by the National Medical Products Administration on July 13.