SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China will strengthen its disease control centres and improve the deployment of resources to resolve shortcomings in its health system exposed by the novel coronavirus outbreak, the state planning agency said on Friday.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said great progress had been made in the “people’s war” against the coronavirus, but it had “also exposed a large number of shortcomings and systemic problems in the prevention and control of major epidemics”.

National- and provincial-level Centres for Disease Control (CDCs) would focus on building up their capacity to detect epidemics, and would also be entrusted to draw up rapid response plans to tackle outbreaks, the commission said.

The agency also promised to upgrade biosafety labs run by the CDCs and build labs in more cities. It would also provide better equipped hospitals in rural regions.

It said it would “adjust” the deployment of existing medical resources but did not mention additional funding.

The novel coronavirus emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. It has infected more than 5 million people globally and killed more than 332,000.

Much blame for the pandemic has been put on the slow response of authorities in Wuhan. One study estimated infections could have been cut by 95% if authorities had locked down the city three weeks earlier.

Senior government adviser Zhong Nanshan, an expert on coronaviruses, told Reuters in February that China’s CDCs needed independent powers to declare emergencies and take the lead in mobilising responses to outbreaks.

Even before this outbreak, experts and legislators were urging the central government to give regions more power and resources to respond more quickly to health crises.

Cai Weiping, an HIV specialist from Guangdong province, proposed last year that local authorities needed powers to issue epidemic warnings and take action independently.

(Reporting by David Stanway; Additional reporting by Roxanne Liu; Editing by Robert Birsel)