SHENZHEN, China - While the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared an end to the global emergency status for COVID-19, the virus remains harmful and China will continue to monitor it while increasing vaccinations among high-risk groups, a top Chinese health official said.

The WHO ended its highest level of alert for COVID on Friday, more than three years after its original declaration, saying countries should now manage the virus along with other infectious diseases.

The ending of the alert status does not mean COVID will disappear, but its impact can now be effectively controlled, Liang Wannian, head of China's COVID response expert panel under the National Health Commission, said in an interview with state media CCTV published on Saturday.

China will continue to monitor mutations of the virus, strengthen vaccinations among high risk and key groups, and look to improve COVID treatment capabilities, Liang said.

China held on to its zero tolerance for COVID long after most countries started to live with the virus, and only began to abandon its restrictive policies in late 2022.

In February China's top leaders declared a "decisive victory" against COVID and claimed the world's lowest fatality rate, though experts have questioned Beijing's data.

(Reporting by David Kirton and Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Kim Coghill)