Starting from Jan 8 next year, COVID-19 will be managed as a Category B infectious disease rather than as Category A, the National Health Commission said in a statement issued on late Monday. This is indeed an important adjustment following the loosening of the tight prevention and control measures.
It was responsible of the Chinese government to classify COVID-19 as a Category B infectious disease like HIV, viral hepatitis and H7N9 bird flu, in January 2020, after it was confirmed it could spread between humans. And it was also responsible of the government to manage it under Category A disease protocols, like bubonic plague and cholera, as there was still a lot to learn about the virus and its pathogenicity was strong and so was the fatality rate for those infected.
Category A protocols gave local governments the power to place the infected and their contacts under quarantine and lock-down areas where there was a cluster of infections. There is no denying that the tight control and prevention measures such as the checking of nucleic acid test results for those entering public venues and the closed management of neighborhoods effectively protected the majority of residents from being infected, and therefore lowered the fatality rate of the disease by a considerable margin.
However, it is impossible for such management measures to last given the toll they were taking on the economy and social activities, and there was no reason to continue these measures when the Omicron variant of the virus has strong transmissibility but weak pathogenicity and a much lower fatality rate.
But what local authorities should be reminded of is the fact that this shift of policy does not mean reduced responsibility on their part for the management of the epidemic, but rather a change of focus.
They will have to do an even better job in ensuring there is an adequate supply of medical services and materials and enough care for vulnerable groups such as the elderly. Relevant departments still need to monitor the mutation of the virus and keep the public informed about the developments of the epidemic.
The shift of policy means a long-anticipated green light has been given to normalize cross-border exchanges of people and production factors. That will greatly expand the space for the recovery of the economy by presenting foreign businesses with the opportunities of one of the largest consumer markets that has effectively remained untapped for three years, as well as domestic export enterprises with a wider access to the foreign market. Tourism, education and cultural exchanges will also receive a shot in the arm, reviving related sectors.
China has met the right conditions for downgrading the management of COVID-19 and putting an end to measures such as large-scale lockdowns and movement restrictions. The virus hasn't been eradicated but its control is now under the aegis of the medical system. It is time to move forward.