Why China emphasizes adherence to dynamic zero-COVID approach

The dynamic zero-COVID approach is the Chinese public health policy that has been implemented to fight the coronavirus over the past two years.

"We are on the way, no matter rain or shine" – Zhou Peijing, a nurse from the Maternity and Child Health Care Hospital in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, posted on her social media handle, as she left for Baise, a city with a population of over 3.5 million that neighbors Vietnam, earlier this month.

Zhou was one of the more than 10,000 medical workers from hospitals across the region who had rushed to Baise to join the battle against coronavirus following a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. The latest outbreak emerged after a person returning home for the Spring Festival holiday tested positive for COVID-19 on February 4.

This is a classic example of China's dynamic zero-COVID policy. Authorities would react swiftly to contain the virus to greatly limit the impact on the economy and society.

Baise has curbed the spread of infections in communities, with no new cases reported for four consecutive days till Sunday, thanks to measures such as travel restrictions and mass nucleic acid testing. Life has returned to normal in most parts of the city this week with the further relaxation of travel restrictions.

The city had logged a total of 271 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases in the latest outbreak, with 227 still under treatment. Earlier local health authorities said the outbreak was linked with the same transmission chain and was highly homologous to an Omicron infection detected on January 31.

What is dynamic zero-COVID policy

The dynamic zero-COVID approach is the Chinese public health policy that has been implemented to fight the coronavirus over the past two years.

According to Chinese health officials, the goal of the policy is to contain domestic virus flare-ups through timely actions. The policy focuses on striking a good balance between epidemic prevention and control and economic and social development.

The policy mainly includes three parts: finding out the infection source in a timely manner, responding quickly to contain outbreaks, and providing effective medical treatment using a combination of Chinese and Western medicines to reduce severe cases and deaths, said Liang Wannian, head of the COVID-19 response expert panel under China's National Health Commission (NHC).

The zero-COVID approach does not mean zero infections. However, it aims to quickly contain the outbreaks, Liang added.

"China has followed the 'dynamic zero-case policy' for two years now, and it has proved to be successful," said Zhang Boli, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

"It is inappropriate to regard Omicron as 'flu with a larger size'," said Zhang, adding that although the symptoms caused by Omicron are mild, it can cause serious harm to middle-aged and elderly people.

Stringent measures

When confirmed cases are detected, local authorities in China generally take measures such as contact tracing, mass nucleic acid testing, closed-off management and travel restrictions to stem community transmission of the virus.

Shortly after the outbreak, Baise upgraded its epidemic control measures, including imposing citywide home quarantine and launching rounds of mass nucleic acid testing to cut off virus transmissions in communities and villages.

The dynamic zero-COVID approach, which prioritizes people's lives, holds the key to fighting the epidemic, said Lei Zhenglong, an NHC pandemic control official. In this process, containing the community spread of coronavirus is the first major step.

Xi'an, the capital city of northwest China's Shaanxi Province that is home to the world-renowned Terracotta Warriors, has recently set a successful example for the dynamic zero-COVID policy.

The megacity with a population of 13 million was hit by a major COVID-19 outbreak from December 9 with over 2,000 local cases. The city managed to stop the spread of COVID-19 infections in communities within one month through stringent epidemic control measures including citywide lockdown and mass nucleic acid testing.

When the outbreak hit Xi'an, the virus had already caused community transmission. In such a scenario, the primary task was to detect hidden cases and trace close contacts based on epidemiological investigations and quickly put them under quarantine, Lei said.

The practice has proven that the dynamic zero-COVID approach has stood the test, and early detection, reporting, quarantine and treatment as well as stringent containment measures remain the key to curbing the transmission, said Zeng Lingxia, professor at the school of public health in Xi'an Jiaotong University.

Spurring economic recovery

The dynamic zero-COVID approach has allowed the Chinese economy to recover strongly despite sporadic epidemic resurgences. The global economy, however, still faces uncertainties at a time when the COVID-19 cases are surging in many countries.

China's gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 8.1 percent year on year to 114.37 trillion yuan (about 18 trillion US dollars) last year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics .

"China has quickly contained dozens of COVID-19 resurgences over the past more than a year, effectively reducing the death toll, while our economic performance is still among the best in the world," Liang said.

With the help of the zero-COVID policy, China has struck a good balance between epidemic prevention and control and economic and social development, he added.

Meanwhile, coronavirus waves have continued to hit other countries, which lack a dynamic zero-COVID policy, wreaking havoc on people's lives and health, as well as economic and social development, Liang said.

After the epidemic receded, Xi'an has shifted toward restarting economic activity and preventing a resurgence of the virus.

Targeted measures have been adopted to create a safe environment. "We carry out personnel screening and environment disinfection regularly, check visitors' health code and temperature at 26 entrances and exits, and place a limit on visitor numbers," said a staff member working at a renowned commercial street in Xi'an.

The zero-COVID approach also allows citizens across China to work and live with a sense of safety, as people are required to wear face masks and follow epidemic control rules in public places.

Zhang Wenbo and his girlfriend failed to buy movie tickets for the night of Valentine's Day despite trying to make a reservation one day in advance.

The couple from Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi, over 200 km away from Baise, instead bought tickets for that day's noon show. "Even at noon, the theater attendance was still above 60 percent," Zhang said.

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