SCIO briefing on white paper 'Fighting COVID-19: China in Action'

​The State Council Information Office (SCIO) held a press conference on June 7 to brief the media on its new white paper: "Fighting COVID-19: China in Action." June 10, 2020

The Asahi Shimbun:

Premier Li Keqiang said in the Government Work Report at the "two sessions" that many weak links have been exposed in public health emergency management during the COVID-19 response. And academician Zhong Nanshan also said in February that the role of the CDC is too weak, and it should be granted certain administrative powers. Regarding this weakness, what are you going to do to improve it? Thank you. 

Ma Xiaowei:

The COVID-19 global pandemic is a major public health emergency. The virus has spread faster and wider than any other since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, and has proven to be the most difficult to contain. It is both a crisis and a major test for China. It is also a test for the development and reform of China's medical and health projects. Under the firm leadership of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, and with joint efforts made by the Chinese people, we made strategic epidemic prevention and control achievements in roughly three months, effectively bringing the outbreak under control and protecting people's lives and their health. Practices in the battle against the epidemic show that China's medical and healthcare system along with its public health emergency management system is generally effective. However, some problems and weaknesses have been exposed.

General Secretary Xi Jinping called for efforts to develop a strong public health system to safeguard the people's lives and their health when he presided over a symposium attended by experts and scholars on the afternoon of June 2. The NHC and relevant departments will shift towards a greater focus on more precise and effective prevention measures, and they will make more efforts to streamline institutional mechanisms, elaborating on the functions of related parties, strengthening early warning capabilities, improving the quality of personnel and reforming mechanisms to ensure related budgetary support. In general, we will strengthen the construction of the public health system and the public health emergency system in the following aspects:

Firstly, we will further improve the mechanism for ensuring related budgetary support. With basic conditions for disease prevention and control improved, we will be able to further implement and improve public health service projects.

Secondly, we will clarify the functions and positions of the CDCs of different levels. In China's four-level disease prevention and control system — namely, national, provincial, municipal and county-level system — we will work to further strengthen the prevention and control of acute infectious diseases and emergency response capabilities. We will also clarify the respective functions and positions of the national CDCs, provincial CDCs, municipal CDCs and county-level CDCs. The national CDC shall be responsible for crucial tasks such as research and development, laboratory testing, professional guidance and etiology and pathogenic analysis. The provincial CDCs shall further strengthen their guidance, supervision, quality assessment and personnel training of regional prevention and control work. The municipal and county-level CDCs shall further strengthen the local epidemiological investigation and improve their daily supervision and monitoring of the local infectious disease spectrum. The county-level CDCs and community-level medical institutions shall strengthen community management and prevention and control work so as to lay a solid foundation for disease prevention at the grassroots level. Therefore, we need to clarify the respective functions of the CDCs at all four levels and streamline institutional mechanisms. In this way, higher and lower level CDCs can work in unison.

Third, we will build up an innovative mechanism combining medical care with disease control and prevention. We will connect the country's system covering the latter with medical care to achieve the smooth flow of personnel, information and resources. As everyone knows, if you are sick, you will go to a hospital. So, the disease will be first found and reported within confines of a hospital. The CDC system has to be closely connected with hospitals, and we intend to ensure that from the perspectives of institutional innovation, guarantee mechanism and personnel management. This is one of our weak spots. This issue has existed for a long time, and there is still some room for improvement.

Fourth, we will work to optimize the monitoring system and enhance our early warning capabilities. Early detection is the essential element within the principle of early detection, reporting, quarantine and treatment, and the key to controlling a major infectious disease. As for early warning, in addition to the online direct reporting system of notifiable epidemics developed after the 2003 SARS outbreak, we now have an administrative reporting system of public health emergencies. And we intend further enhance and improve these two systems. For example, we will establish a public opinion monitoring system, a reporting system for medical personnel, diversified information collection channels for scientific reports, and a multiple trigger mechanism for intelligent early warning. We will improve the emergency plan, establish health emergency teams based on levels and categories, and strengthen overall ability to detect, report, give early warning of, and respond to major public health events.

Fifth, we will enhance the building of the talent pool and develop better ways to motivate them. We attach great importance to cultivating professionals on pathogen detection, epidemiological investigations, laboratory testing, and study and analysis of the overall epidemic situation. It will improve our efficiency and level in routine surveillance, emergency warning, field investigation, situation study and epidemiological survey of major infectious diseases. Moreover, new policies will be formulated to improve public health, personnel training, admission procedures, talent use, salary structure, ongoing evaluation, and an incentive mechanism. As reported, there was once a brain drain in China's disease control and prevention system. We need to improve personnel training and increase the salary structure so that our teams can fully play their role in routine surveillance and management, and can handle emergencies under virtual wartime conditions. Then, we will see a great progress and improvement in our ability of effectively responding to major public health emergencies. Thank you.

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