Published: 11:48, March 17, 2023 | Updated: 11:48, March 17, 2023
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Officials call for improved health system
By Li Lei

Ideas include fixing 'short planks' and patriotic movement for better hygiene

A medical worker explained the result of a CT scan to a patient during a free clinic event in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, in March. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Central government officials on Thursday called for efforts to ramp up the detection capability for COVID-19 infections, fix the "short planks" in the country's health system and wage a patriotic health movement to improve hygiene.

The directives came a month after central authorities declared at a key meeting of the top leadership on Feb 16 that the country had secured a "major, decisive victory" over the pandemic.

Liu Dechun, director of the National Development and Reform Commission's resource conservation and environmental protection department, said local authorities need to make sure that COVID-19 cases can be detected, reported and treated early, and extra attention has to be paid to "key places" such as nursing homes, schools and farm produce markets.

Local officials will also have to work to solve "weak links" such as those related to medications and medical devices, he said at a news conference in Beijing. Their supply tends to run low at small health institutions in the case of a health emergency.

The director said cleanup campaigns will also be carried out nationwide with a focus on backstreet alleys, old residential communities and shanty towns, and venues such as small eateries.

The cleanup efforts will be part of the patriotic health campaign, which was first introduced in the 1950s to wipe out rats, flies, mosquitoes and other pests that carry and transmit infectious pathogens.

"Next, the NDRC… will lose no time in fixing the short planks and make up for the weak points in urban and rural health systems and sanitation works," he said.

The moves had been outlined in a circular issued by eight central government agencies including the NDRC, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the National Health Commission last month.

The 15-point document said the spread of Omicron infections in China has turned for the better in recent months and the country has steadily moved into a new phase of COVID-19 control with downgraded management of the disease.

Liu said the circular was made in line with the spirit of the Feb 16 meeting, whose participants urged efforts to improve epidemic response measures and mechanisms in the new stage, a strengthened healthcare system and firmly consolidated hard-won achievements.

Speaking at the news conference, Wu Xiangtian, deputy director of the NHC's planning, development and information technology department, said that central authorities have earmarked 110 billion yuan ($15.9 billion) since 2020 to hospitals of all levels, which has helped improve China's treatment capacity for COVID-19.

The commission will continue to work with relevant departments to raise such investments in expanding medical infrastructure and optimize the spread of medical resources, he said.

"We'll also ramp up the construction of 'smart hospitals', improve the digitalization of medical facilities and let medical services expand to rural areas through the internet," Wu said.

Chang Zhaorui, a researcher at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said local authorities will also make an effort to prevent the increased spread of flu, hand-foot-and-mouth disease and norovirus infections in spring and summer.

China faces growing pressure from diseases being imported, such as dengue fever and malaria. "Officials need to keep a close eye on key sections, and advance the disease control work in a coordinated fashion."