China’s State Council has urged local authorities to avoid “irresponsible loosening” of Covid-19 measures, after refinements to the strict zero-Covid policy released last week led to a rush in some areas to abandon mass testing and other requirements. National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng told a press briefing on Thursday: “[We must] continue to rectify the practice of excessive measures such as lockdowns and oppose the irresponsibility of evading a solution by loosening up”. China’s new Covid-19 controls get mixed reaction as rising cases stoke fears At the same briefing, plans were unveiled to build stronger capacity to handle severe cases in designated Covid-19 hospitals, a sign that China is preparing for worse waves of infections ahead. The strengthened hospitals could also potentially play a major role in the country’s pivot away from zero-Covid. “The designated hospitals are required to allocate sufficient beds for treatment according to the size of the local population, while the construction of intensive care units, or ICUs, should be strengthened, and the number of ICU beds should reach 10 per cent of the total number of beds,” said National Health Commission official Guo Yanhong. Guo said more fever clinics should also be built for the early detection of cases. The State Council announced 20 measures on Friday to ease Covid-19 restrictions, leading to a stock market rally anticipating China’s abandonment of its strict Covid-19 response. At the same time, several local governments cancelled mass testing programmes and stopped requiring negative test results before allowing people in public venues or transport. Beijing has been pushing back with briefings and commentaries in party mouthpiece People’s Daily stressing that the new guidelines are no more than tweaks to the existing policy, aimed at optimising the prevention and control rules and reducing their economic and social impact. China eyes ‘targeted and precise’ approach to zero-Covid as cases exceed 10,500 China is experiencing its strongest wave of Covid-19 in six months, with 23,132 cases reported on Thursday – almost double last Friday’s case count. The surge is mainly driven by outbreaks in some major cities that are showing no sign of easing. The manufacturing hub of Guangzhou in southern China reported nearly 10,000 cases on Thursday, most of them in the Haizhu district, which has a large number of migrant workers in its crowded buildings. The western city of Chongqing reported more than 4,000 infections and banned residents from leaving the city except for essential reasons, in a bid to contain the outbreak. In Urumqi, capital of the western region of Xinjiang, there were nearly 600 cases reported after more than three months of hard lockdown. Shen Hongbing, deputy head of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, also told the meeting that testing needs to be done “scientifically”. “Local governments should … neither use excessive measures nor arbitrarily reduce control rules,” he said. Areas without local infections should focus on testing of key spots and at-risk personnel, without expanding the sphere of regular testing, Shen said. He advised local authorities who are facing an outbreak to assess whether the source of infection and transmission chains are clear and whether there is a risk of community transmission. What it’s like to live under zero-Covid in China – the good and the bad Districts should still carry out mass testing until all positive cases have been found within the quarantined population, Shen said. Asked when China will allow use of the BioNTech vaccine – approved for import under a deal with Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceuticals – Shen said China would base its choice of vaccines on several factors, including affordability and accessibility. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said earlier this month, after his meeting with President Xi Jinping in Beijing, that China will make the vaccine available to foreigners living in the country. Shen said China is working on boosting vaccination without giving details.