Chinese authorities have given conditional approval for general public use of a coronavirus vaccine developed by state-owned drugmaker Sinopharm.

The move came a day after the firm said interim data showed its leading vaccine had a 79% efficacy rate in phase three trials, without providing more details.

Several Chinese-made vaccines at a late trial stage are already in use in China after being granted emergency licenses.

The pandemic emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. It has since spread around the world, but China has managed to bring infection rates down to very low levels through strict anti-virus measures.

The search for the source of the coronavirus has led to tensions with the West. The US – among a number of other countries – raised questions about whether China was fully transparent when the virus first emerged there.

Thursday’s announcement concerning the vaccine made by the China National Pharmaceutical Group, or Sinopharm, is China’s first general approval of a homemade jab – and it is being seen as potentially a major step towards inoculating the world’s largest population.

The deputy commissioner of China’s National Medical Products Administration, Chen Shifei, announced the decision at a news conference in Beijing.

“After a series of strict reviews, verification, test and data analysis in accordance with the law and procedures, it is concluded that the known and potential benefits of Sinopharm’s new inactivated coronavirus vaccine are bigger than the known and potential risks, and it fully meets the pre-set requirements of conditional marketing standards,” he said.

Vice Minister of the National Health Commission Zeng Yixin said approval would allow the government to “extend vaccination to high-risk groups, those susceptible to a severe viral infection… and the elderly”.

In July, China approved three different jabs for emergency use in key workers and other people at high risk. More than 4.5 million doses have so far been administered.

Beijing hopes to inoculate tens of millions more people by mid-February, the start of the Chinese New Year. Sinopharm is also working on a second vaccine, and a number of other Chinese vaccines are in production. These include CoronaVac, made by the Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company Sinovac.