A waitress wearing a mask serves two customers at a table in a restaurant in Beijing's Chaoyang district, Dec 7, 2022. （Photo by Wei Xiaohao/chinadaily.com.cn）
Centralized quarantine for COVID-19 patients has been made voluntary and the rule requiring a negative nucleic acid test result for domestic travel and entry to public venues has been scrapped, as the country takes "small, yet continuous steps" to adjust to the disease.
The changes were laid out in a circular released by the State Council's Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism on Wednesday.
The internet link of the circular was widely shared on social media and triggered a surge in search volume for air tickets on various travel booking websites.
The announcement, known as the "10 new measures", comes less than a month after China introduced its first set of 20 optimization rules to deal with the highly transmissible, but less virulent, Omicron subvariants, which have spurred nationwide outbreaks.
The new rules prohibit local authorities from rolling out lockdowns outside individual buildings or floors and barricading entrances. All restrictions must be lifted within five days if no new infection is detected, the circular said.
The circular reaffirmed the importance of surveys to identify residents with underlying health conditions, and also the need to increase the vaccination rate among the elderly through publicity campaigns and incentives.
Proof of a negative test result is still required for admission to a hospital — for non-COVID related conditions — or nursing home.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Liang Wannian, a member of the National Health Commission's COVID-19 expert response panel, stressed that the new set of measures did not signal complete relaxation of protocols, but "adjustments" in light of recent developments.
"Currently, the pathogenicity and virulence of virus variants have significantly dropped. Vaccination coverage across the nation has exceeded 90 percent, and public health awareness has increased," he said.
Liang emphasized that "adjusting the epidemic prevention and control strategy was a systematic undertaking that required taking many factors into account, including the pathogenic and epidemiological characteristics of the virus, population immunity and the nation's medical system".
China also needs time to stock up on medicines and supplies as it keeps a close watch on the novel coronavirus, Liang said. Boosting immunization among the elderly and ramping up efforts to stock up on drugs and medical supplies will help battle the virus better, he added.
Zheng Zhongwei, an official at the commission and head of China's vaccine development force, encouraged elderly patients with diabetes or high blood pressure to get vaccinated, saying the benefits far outweigh the risks.
"Those with underlying conditions may have concerns about getting vaccinated, but as long as their health parameters are stable, there is no issue," he said.
However, those likely to suffer a severe allergic reaction or those who are terminally ill can avoid the vaccine, Zheng said. "Those who are sick can wait until they fully recover and then get the vaccine."
All Party and State leaders have received Chinese COVID vaccines, and heads of state and governments of more than 30 countries have also been given Chinese vaccines, he said.