China ramps up vaccinations, but uneven rollout leaves borders closed

BEIJING: China has tripled its daily COVID-19 vaccine rollout in June, inoculating 44 per cent of its population with at least one dose, but its health experts warn against a quick border reopening, citing an uneven rollout and the low rate of full vaccinations.

China rolled out 17.3 million doses per day in June on average, up sharply from 4.8 million in April, as it expanded the list of approved vaccines to seven by adding three more locally-developed shots, and continued to boost production.

But the rollout has been uneven.

By the first week of June, major cities of Beijing and Shanghai fully inoculated nearly 70 per cent and 50 per cent of their residents respectively, but the rate in Guangdong and Shandong provinces remained below 20 per cent.

"(China) is such a big country ... Once any of its places open up, it will have a big impact on places that haven't reached high vaccination levels," Feng Zijian, a researcher at Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said earlier this month.

Feng said that China is yet to reach a consensus on what vaccination rate will safely allow adjusting virus control measures, including loosening requirement of quarantine or virus testing for inbound travellers.

China will also wait and see how Japan handles its virus outbreak and the Tokyo Olympics next month before deciding how quickly Beijing needs to loosen its border controls, a person familiar with the situation said.

China is also stepping up vaccinations in preparation to host the Winter Olympics early next year.

Several counties and districts of Zhangjiakou city in northern China, which will host some of the Games, are urging residents to get vaccinated, saying it is a "necessary contribution" that they should make for the international event.

As part of the city's vaccination campaign, more than 1,800 unvaccinated visitors were dissuaded from entering a park in the Xuanhua district earlier this month and guided to nearby inoculation sites, according to a social media post by the district-level authorities.