China will provide COVID-19 vaccines free of charge once they become available to the general public, government authorities said on Saturday.
National Health Commission official Zheng Zhongwei said that while manufacturing and transport of vaccines have costs, the government can provide vaccines for free to individuals.
“Our people don’t have to pay a single cent for the vaccine,” Zheng told a press event in Beijing.
China in late December approved its first vaccine for general public use. Three vaccines had already been given to limited groups at high risk of infection, including medical workers, through an emergency-use program.
The country widened the inoculation scheme in mid-December to more key groups such as employees in the food and public transport sectors, in an effort to stem a resurgence in the winter and spring.
Those vaccinations are also free for individuals, said National Health Commission official Zeng Yixin.
“We had found some local governments had charged individuals fees, we … demanded immediate rectification,” Zeng told the briefing, adding that local governments have since properly implemented the free vaccination policy.
China has administered more than 9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, National Health Commission official Zeng Yixin said on Saturday.
In another development, the Chinese authorities halted public transport in a provincial capital near Beijing on Saturday in an effort to stamp out a new cluster of coronavirus infections.
Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province surrounding Beijing, suspended service on the city’s subway, then extended the ban to all public transport, including taxis. The province entered a “wartime mode” this week to battle the infections.
The National Health Commission reported 33 new COVID-19 cases for mainland China on Jan. 8, down from 53 reported a day earlier. The authority said in a statement that 14 of the 17 locally transmitted infections were in Hebei.
Authorities on Thursday banned people from leaving Shijiazhuang. The city is launching mass testing of its 11 million people. Municipal authorities told residents on Friday they must stay home for at least seven days even after they complete a nucleic acid test.
The health commission also reported 38 new asymptomatic cases, down from 57 a day earlier. China does not classify these patients, who have been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease but are not yet showing any COVID-19 symptoms, as confirmed cases.
(Reporting by Josh Horwitz and Roxanne Liu; Editing by William Mallard and Lincoln Feast)