The WHO's decision to remove the COVID-19 disease's public health emergency label means the available disease control tools are sufficient to tackle threats from the virus and its harm to human beings can be effectively contained, Chinese health experts said on Friday.
However, they stressed the pandemic is not officially over and China will prioritize surveillance of novel variants, vaccination of vulnerable groups and ramp-up of medical and emergency response systems in the future.
The World Health Organization declared on Friday that COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency of international concern, its highest level alert that was first declared on Jan 30, 2020.
Liang Wannian, head of the National Health Commission's epidemic response expert panel, said during an interview multiple factors, such as consistently declining numbers of reported cases, hospitalizations, severe patients and deaths, as well as no reports of significant increase in new strains' pathogenicity and mortality, have contributed to the WHO's decision.
"The world has established adequate herd immunity against the disease through mass vaccination or natural infection over the past three years, and has stepped up overall preparedness including stockpiles of protective equipment and effective therapeutics," he said.
With the removal of the label, Liang said restrictions on cross-regional traffic, trade and tourism globally are expected to further ease, driving international communication and travel.
"China will also be on track to see more interactions with the rest of the world and will be able to dedicate more resources to develop the economy and boost livelihoods," he said.
Liang noted the change does not mean the pandemic has ended, nor does it suggest COVID-19 has become harmless. "Rather, it represents that the disease's threat can be effectively reined in," he said.
Liang said global solidarity and targeted and science-based measures are still needed to safeguard health.
For China, Liang said developing more effective monitoring and early warning networks for viral mutations and epidemics will be a key task.
"Vaccination campaigns targeting high-risk groups should continue to be rolled out and our capability in treating serious patients should be further improved," he said.
"It is also important to remind our public to keep practicing hygiene measures, ramping up training and stockpiles to cope with potential health emergencies and continue our efforts in building a strong public health system."
Shi Guoqing, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention‘s emergency operations center, said "One vital measure is to closely monitor viral mutations and make use of our multichannel surveillance system to keep track of the numbers of patients with fever, positive cases and other patients with respiratory illnesses."
He added that urban wastewater monitoring systems can also be activated under special circumstances.