China embraced its first Chinese New Year with downgraded COVID-19 measures in recent months and the nation has already seen a positive impact in helping people resume their normal lives.
About 110 million railway passenger trips were made between January 7 and 21, the first 15 days of the 40-day Chinese New Year travel rush, up 27.3 percent year on year, according to China Railway. A total of 26.23 million trips were made on the Chinese New Year eve via railways, highways, ships and airplanes, half pre-pandemic levels, but up 50.8 percent from last year.
The search and bookings for the outbound travel have been surging since the country reinstated travel agencies and online travel companies' outbound group travel and "air ticket + hotel" businesses for Chinese citizens starting from February.
Data from Alibaba's travel portal Feizhu on January 20 showed that bookings for outbound travel to 33 countries and regions doubled year on year. Travel orders to Thailand, Maldives and New Zealand exceeded 10 times increase. International flight tickets in the recent week surged three times compared to last year.
Such travel rush seemed to pose potential COVID-19 infection growth, however, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the possibility of a big COVID-19 rebound over the next two or three months is remote as 80 percent of people have been infected.
"Currently, the nation has passed the peak of the COVID-19 infection wave," he said on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform.
The COVID-19 battle
It was not easy for China to combat COVID-19 in the past three years due to the fluid situation of the virus. The country always put people's life and health as the top priority in policymaking.
When the virus was detected in Wuhan, the government decided to shut down traffic in and out of the city, pausing regular work and lives for tens of millions of people. It was an aggressive but rather bold measure that was cited as "difficult but right thing to do" by doctors and experts as reported in a Bloomberg article.
In the three months that followed, China sent more than 40,000 medical workers to hard-hit Hubei and Wuhan, who strived to help resolve the first wave of infections.
It has also taken swift actions in the research and development of vaccines against the virus right after the country successfully isolated the first novel coronavirus strain amid the outbreak early in 2020.
A scientific, precise approach
Once the outbreak had been contained, China adapted its COVID-19 response in light of an evolving situation with dynamic COVID-19 zero approach, which bought time for vaccination development and inoculation against the virus.
The essence of the policy was to cut off the spread of new infections as soon as possible, instead of letting go of the situation and allowing it to run out of control. The approach enabled the nation to develop its vaccines and roll out vaccination to get as many people protected as possible, keeping severe cases and deaths at a low rate.
Three years into pandemic, China has approved 13 COVID-19 vaccines using five different technologies and fully vaccinated over 90 percent of its population.
The government updated ten versions of guidelines as the dominant variants moved from Alpha to Delta, and now the less virulent Omicron. Each guideline is one step closer to a more scientific and more precise way to tackle the situation.
Downgraded COVID-19 measures
China's latest COVID-19 response to downgrade its COVID-19 measures starting from January is to shift the focus from infection control to the prevention and treatment of severe cases. Measures include reopening border ports for cargo transportation as well as inbound and outbound visitors, resuming visa services, scrapping quarantine and on-site COVID-19 tests for the inbound visitors, etc.
"It doesn't mean we have stopped all preventative measures against the virus," said Liang Wannian, head of the COVID-19 response expert panel under China's National Health Commission (NHC), "It means we are stepping up our health services and epidemic response capability."
The new policy put much more attention to the vulnerable groups such as the elderly and the people in suburbs who may lack medical necessities, encouraging further vaccination and boosting of medical supply production.
China has been increasing medical support to rural area in recent weeks. The country has sent more than 1 million finger oxygen meters to more than 600,000 village clinics.
The amount of critical medical equipment, including ventilators, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, better known as ECMO, are generally enough for the country to treat severe cases, said Jiao Yahui, head of the Medical Affairs Department under NHC.
The nation has cumulatively manufactured 5.14 billion tablets of key analgesics drugs, including ibuprofen and acetaminophen, since January 1, which is sufficient to meet demand, said Tian Yulong, chief engineer of Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
With a three-year effort, the country has effectively dealt with more than 100 clustered epidemics and successfully avoided the widespread prevalence of the original strain with strong pathogenicity and the Delta variant strain, according to Mi Feng, NHC spokesperson.