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Xi Jinping met delegates for Hubei, the worst-hit Chinese province over the weekend. Photo: Xinhua

Xi Jinping says China must strengthen health system after coronavirus pandemic

  • Chinese leader says overhaul of monitoring and warning systems are needed after the Covid-19 outbreak exposed shortcomings
  • System has been hampered by lack of staff and resources and president said it must be strengthened at the grass-roots level

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for an overhaul of the country’s public health system, which has been criticised for being ill-prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic that claimed more than 4,600 lives in the country.

In a meeting with delegates to the national legislature from Hubei, the country’s worst-hit province, Xi said addressing and preventing epidemics and other public health crises was a matter of national security and a systematic effort was needed to improve shortcomings, such as epidemic monitoring and warning systems, state media reported on Sunday.

On Friday Premier Li Keqiang said in his annual government report that reforming the country’s disease prevention and control system would be high on the leadership’s agenda this year, alongside other challenges including reviving the economy amid the global recession triggered by the pandemic.

The pandemic has laid bare many problems with China’s disease prevention and control system, which was modelled on its US counterpart and refined in the aftermath of the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak.

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These problems included a lack of funding, understaffing in local offices and an inefficient public health reporting system that hampered the response when the first reports of the disease emerged in Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei, late last year.

One key problem was that the national Centre for Disease Control and Prevention was powerless to inform the public about a potential pandemic.

Xi’s speech did not outline specific measures but called for the disease prevention and control system to be strengthened, with solid grass-roots foundations and a stronger role for lower-level medical institutions such as township health centres.

He also said the country should establish an “intelligent multi-point” trigger mechanism to improve the monitoring and early warning systems.

He also wanted to improve “basic conditions” in the disease prevention and control system and set up a training system to enhance front-line workers’ “sense of honour and mission”.

“Prevention is the most economical and effective health strategy,” Xi said. “We must adhere to prevention as we launch a patriotic health campaign in the new era.”

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Xi also suggested that some lifestyle measures adopted during the pandemic should continue, such as using separate chopsticks for serving and eating food, better waste collection systems and the use of masks and social distancing to stop the spread of infections.

Xi also described Wuhan as a “heroic city” that had made considerable sacrifices to fight the pandemic.

According to official figures, around 4,500 people have been killed by Covid-19 in Hubei, including more than 3,800 in Wuhan.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Xi calls for overhaul of public health system