(Bloomberg) -- China should adopt rapid antigen tests for Covid and allow home isolation for those with mild infections, the former top two officials at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said, adding to the drumbeat of pro-relaxation sentiment building in the world’s second-largest economy.
Rapid tests that can be done at home will be a crucial alternative to mass laboratory testing as local authorities wind down blanket PCR requirements, Feng Zijian, the former deputy chief at China CDC, told The Paper in an interview published on Monday. It is also necessary to allow mild and asymptomatic Covid patients to isolate at home, he told the local media outlet.
The country should pivot its Covid approach to focus on getting outbreaks under control, rather than trying to eliminate the virus completely, ex-China CDC chief George Gao Fu told the Chinese business news outlet Yicai in a separate interview. Gao also endorsed the use of rapid antigen tests.
The support from two top Chinese infectious disease experts for widespread adoption of antigen tests and home isolation -- measures already widely practiced in the rest of the world that’s now living with Covid-19 -- underscores the growing momentum in the world’s second-largest economy to exit from its punishing Covid Zero containment regime. Cities have begun narrowing testing requirements in recent days, but their moves only address the tip of the iceberg of complicated rules that make daily life in China inconvenient and fraught.
Gao and Feng recently left their posts at China CDC in pursuit of more academic careers. The two highly-regarded and well-known scientists have been at the forefront of China’s Covid prevention and treatment efforts for the past three years.
Under Covid Zero, China sends everyone who tests positive to centralized quarantine camps. The government-run facilities, feared by the public for their poor conditions and chaotic management, are quickly filling as tens of thousands of cases are detected each day across the country.
While there has been no official announcements changing those rules, many cities, including the capital Beijing, have begun allowing some people to isolate at home amid rising anger and public resistance to the heavy-handed quarantine policies. The move also eases pressure, as the makeshift hospitals and isolation wards run out of space.
Feng, now the executive vice president at the Chinese Preventive Medicine Association was one of eight experts convened by Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan last week when she pledged small, consistent changes to optimize China’s approach to Covid as it enters a new phase of the pandemic.
“At present, it’s easy for makeshift hospitals to reach their limit,” Feng said in the interview. “That makes home isolation for mild and asymptomatic patients inevitable and necessary.”
He also said a surge in infections would put significant pressure on the medical system. The solution would be to re-introduce curbs, ranging from reducing stores’ hours and closing restaurants to reinstating temporary work-from-home requirements for non-essential workers if needed to flatten the curve and ease the pressure on hospitals.
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