China's two-child policy showed "notable results" in 2016, leading to the largest annual number of newborns since 2000, a senior health official said Saturday.
Wang Pei'an, deputy minister of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, made the remarks at a press conference on the sidelines of the National People's Congress annual session.
He said 18.46 million live births in hospital were recorded across the country in 2016, two million more than the average of the previous five years.
The total fertility rate also rose to 1.7, compared to 1.5-1.6 between 2000 and 2015.
Wang predicted the trend will continue in the coming years through 2020, during which the annual number of newborns will range between 17 million and 19 million.
This means the number of newborns will, at the very least, remain flat and could grow by as many as 2 million annually compared to the average between 2010 and 2015.
"We are very optimistic," Wang said.
China allowed all married couples to have two children in 2016. This follows an earlier policy easing in 2013 that allowed couples to have a second child if either parent was an only child.
The latest change ended the one-child policy implemented in the late 1970s to rein in the surging population.
The policy shift was in response to China's rapidly aging population.
As of 2015, China's population was 1.375 billion and is expected to peak at 1.45 billion around 2030.
Citing surveys done by the commission in 2013 and 2015, Wang said there were three main factors affecting parents' willingness to have a second child: consideration for women's career development; insufficient child-care resources, especially for toddlers, and economic burdens.
Finance Minister Xiao Jie said at an earlier press conference that the government is considering a tax deduction for two-child families.
The government's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) pledges to boost public services, including mother and child care, education and social security to support two-child families.
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