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Changes to COVID management policies explained

By CHENG SI (China Daily)Updated: 2022-12-28

The National Health Commission announced late Monday that it will reclassify the novel coronavirus, changing it from "novel coronavirus pneumonia" to "novel coronavirus infection" and simultaneously downgrading management of the disease from Class A to Class B in accordance with the national law on infectious disease prevention and treatment, as of Jan 8.

Briefly, this is what the new adjustment means.

Q: What are the legal procedures for downgrading management? What risks may emerge after? And how can these risks be mitigated?

Lei Zhenglong, an official at the National Administration of Disease Prevention and Control:

"The downgrade was proposed by the health department and approved by the State Council before it takes effect.

"Under newly adjusted management, those who are infected and those who are in close contact will not be quarantined, which will result in a surge of infections and increased demand for medical services, and will lead to a shortage of medical resources in the early phase. The public may be anxious about being infected due to the surge, and fear resulting from infection.

"To prevent potential risks, we suggest improving public health education and encouraging them to protect themselves well through good sanitation. Maintaining a positive outlook is also of great importance. The government and health authorities should prepare properly and boost medicine supplies to meet needs."

Q: When are nucleic acid tests necessary under the new policy?

Jiao Yahui, an official at the National Health Commission:

"No large-scale nucleic acid tests will be held after implementation of the new management policy.

"Test results will be used by medical institutes to diagnose patients. In places where people gather, such as nursing homes and welfare homes, also some large companies, workers and residents can have nucleic acid tests to monitor their health.

"Others may take nucleic acid tests or antigen tests at will. Health authorities are required to maintain testing booths to meet public needs."

Q: Is it possible management will be downgraded from Class B to Class C?

Li Qun, an official at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

"Class C includes 11 common infectious diseases such as flu and mumps, which require health authorities to follow development in case of outbreaks.

"Whether the virus can be downgraded into Class C depends on the harm it causes to patients, which requires continuous monitoring of a patient's condition and variants of the virus.

"We may downgrade management to Class C if the variant becomes more stable or displays lower pathogenicity, and if we have more complete and systematic knowledge and treatment, as well as a more sound public understanding of the virus. But so far, we still need time to research and evaluate the disease."

Q: How will patients be classified?

Jiao Yahui, an official at the National Health Commission:

"Patients with COVID-19 without severe existing health conditions and who display mild symptoms may receive treatment at home.

"Older patients or those with severe existing health conditions can go to hospitals — usually those who were previously mobile — if their condition remains stable. The severely ill, who are suffering from novel coronavirus pneumonia, can be treated at designated hospitals. Patients with existing health conditions or any other illnesses who test positive can also visit hospitals for treatment."

Q: Is there any change of government responsibility as a result of downgrading?

Lei Zhenglong, an official at the National Administration of Disease Prevention and Control:

"The country puts protecting lives as the priority. Government bodies will continue to work together to increase the COVID-19 vaccination rate among the elderly after the downgrade takes effect.

"The government will boost the supply of medications and improve medical services, and better plan for nucleic acid and antigen testing. The government will enhance monitoring of the situation and improve the release of information to facilitate implementation of the new management policy."

Q: How are the elderly, pregnant women and children protected under the new policy?

Xu Wenbo, an official at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

"Vulnerable groups including the elderly, patients with existing health conditions, and pregnant women should first protect themselves by washing their hands frequently, wearing masks and avoiding gatherings. Homes should be properly sanitized and parcels disinfected.

"Getting vaccinated and booster shots is important, especially for those above 60 years of age and those with severe existing health conditions. If a family member gets infected, they should stay in a separate room to reduce contact with the vulnerable.

"Community workers must closely follow the health of vulnerable groups and offer medical services if necessary. We suggest that community workers or family members pay attention to mental health and keep people feeling positive. Exercise is also important, and can help improve immunity."

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