China’s response to Covid-19 should now focus on preventing serious cases – rather than infection – by expanding vaccination, top infectious disease expert Zhong Nanshan said on Friday. “We cannot adopt the same strategy as two years ago,” said Zhong, a Guangzhou specialist famed for leading the battle against the Sars outbreak in 2003. “Being infected with Omicron is not scary, as there is a 99 per cent chance to recover in seven to 10 days. We should put our focus on severe case prevention,” he told a medical conference via video link. “Self-protection, designated hospitals and protection of healthcare workers is particularly important.” Zhong’s remarks come two days after Beijing announced a major policy shift away from its tough zero-Covid approach. Now, people who test positive but have mild or no symptoms can isolate at home instead of being sent to a quarantine facility, while compulsory mass testing and lockdowns have been abandoned. “China must prevent over-prevention,” Zhong said, adding that this could lead to more disastrous social and economic results than those from the virus. Also on Friday, in an interview aired on state broadcaster CCTV, Zhong sought to ease concerns about lingering symptoms. He said an estimated 25 to 30 per cent of people worldwide had persistent symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia after recovering from Covid-19. “But these symptoms will slowly disappear as time progresses and health improves,” Zhong said. “We won’t call these sequelae of Covid-19.” Coronavirus in China: new guidelines support shift to living with Covid-19 He said that while the Omicron variant was more transmissible, it was less severe than other strains and that the focus now should be on vaccination. “Strengthening vaccination is a key step in Covid control,” he said, adding that booster shots with different vaccines would be more effective. Zhong told the broadcaster that the government should seek to lift the vaccination rate among the elderly and other vulnerable groups, and speed up development of alternatives like nasal and inhalable vaccines. China has a low vaccination rate for Covid-19 – particularly among older people – which has raised concerns about whether the country is prepared for an inevitable surge in cases as restrictions are eased. While more than 90 per cent of the country of 1.4 billion has been fully vaccinated, that rate is significantly lower among people who are 80 and over – the most vulnerable age group. About 86 per cent of those aged 80 and above have had at least one shot, but only 40 per cent have received a booster dose. A new campaign to get more of the elderly population vaccinated focuses on making the jabs more accessible to older people by offering them at places like nursing homes. The aim is for more than 90 per cent of residents aged 80 and above to have had at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of next month. But the central government has said there would be no vaccine mandate, with health officials telling reporters this week that vaccination should be “informed, voluntary and with consent”. Separately, Tong Zhaohui, director of the Beijing Institute of Respiratory Diseases, told a press briefing on Friday that doctors and researchers had been studying Omicron since it emerged in China earlier this year and had concluded that it was less pathogenic than previous strains. Severe cases and deaths caused by Omicron were significantly lower than those from the original virus and other variants of concern, which Tong said was partly due to “enhanced immunity from vaccination and the active prevention and control strategy adopted by China”.