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UPDATE 2-China steps up COVID-19 vaccination, considers differentiated visa policies

(Recasts, adds details, background)

BEIJING, March 21 (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.

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% 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.

More than 70 million doses of Sinovac Biotech’s shot have been administered globally, a company spokesman told the news conference, without specifying how many of those had been administered in China.

Beijing is considering 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 different countries.

“We do not exempt vaccinated people from testing and isolation measures for the time being,” said Feng Zijian, vice director of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC).

But he said China will pay attention to international progress in developing “vaccine passports” 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% or 30% immunity, not enough to protect the population, Wu explained at the China Development Forum in Beijing on Saturday evening.

“We need to reach 70%-80% in one country as soon as possible, then a second country, then a third country,” Wu 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 approved for emergency use last week. (Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Ryan Woo; Editing by William Mallard and Sam Holmes)

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