China steps up Covid-19 vaccination, considers differentiated visa policies

China has approved four locally developed vaccines for general public use.
China has approved four locally developed vaccines for general public use.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China has accelerated its vaccinations against Covid-19, administering 10 million doses in around a week, and is considering varied visa policies based on vaccination and virus conditions in different countries, officials said on Sunday (March 21).

The country had administered 74.96 million vaccine doses as of Saturday, health commission spokesman Mi Feng told a news briefing. That is up from 64.98 million as of March 14.

China aims to vaccinate 40 per cent of its 1.4 billion people by the middle of the year, according to state media and a top health adviser. China was among the first countries to begin administering vaccines last year and has been exporting millions of doses, but its vaccination rate has fallen behind those of such countries as Israel and the United States.

Over 70 million doses of Sinovac Biotech's shot have been administered globally so far, a company spokesman said during the news conference on Sunday. He did not say how many of those had been administered in China.

Beijing is also considering implementing differentiated policies for visa issuance, flights and controls on the numbers of people arriving in China based on vaccination progress and the Covid-19 situations in the countries of origin.

"We do not exempt vaccinated people from testing and isolation measures for the time being," said Mr Feng Zijian, vice-director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, during the news conference.

However, he said China will pay attention to international progress in "vaccine passport" development and could adjust virus curbing measures after the domestic population reaches a high level of immunisation.

China's full-year vaccine production can fully meet the needs of entire country, said Ministry of Industry and Information Technology official Mao Junfeng.

He said the supply of materials for vaccine production, including glass vials and syringes, is "relatively stable".

Countries with high proportions of elderly people should be prioritised for vaccination, said Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at China CDC.

If all countries push forward with their vaccination programs at the same pace, it is possible that each country might reach just 10 per cent or 30 per cent immunity, not enough to protect the population, he explained at the China Development Forum in Beijing on Saturday evening.

“We need to reach 70 to 80 per cent in one country as soon as possible, then a second country, then a third country,” he said.

China has approved four locally developed vaccines for general public use from Sinovac, CanSino Biologics and two units of China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).

A fifth vaccine developed by the Institute of Microbiology of Chinese Academy of Sciences was also approved for emergency use last week.