Beijing's legislature relaxed its family planning policy on Friday, allowing couples to have a second child if either parent is an only child.
An earlier regulation, passed in 2003, had stipulated that only couples in which both parents were only children could have a second child.
According to the new regulation, couples should wait until the wife turns 28 years old or until their first child is 4 years old to have a second child.
Geng Yutian, deputy director of the city's health and family planning commission, said the change is needed to combat the problem of an aging population.
"The total fertility rate with residential permits (hukou) in Beijing has been staying at about 1.0 for 18 years, which is obviously lower than the national average of 1.5 to 1.6 per cent. ... Since 2000, the fertility rate of the city's residents has stayed below 10 per thousand, a record low," he said.
Also, the proportion of working-age people has steadily fallen since 2010, and people age 60 or above made up more than 20 per cent of the population with Beijing hukou last year, he said.
"If the family planning policy remains the same, the total fertility rate will continue to drop," said Geng.
Now, the city should improve its hospitals, kindergartens and primary schools to meet the possible increase in demand, said Wang Delin, vice-chairman of the Legislative Affairs Committee under the city's legislature, the Beijing Municipal People's Congress.
According to the city's health and family planning commission, another 40,000 to 50,000 babies will be born each year with the new policy in place.
There are 4,466 maternity beds in the city's 127 hospitals, which have a capacity of about 260,000 babies, which will "basically meet" the increased demand, said Zheng Jinpu, a member of the commission.
"However, more maternity patients go to top-level hospitals than these hospitals can receive. Thus, we urgently need to channel more people to grassroots hospitals," he added.
Geng emphasised that it's still an urgent task to control the total population of Beijing.
"The pressure of population is rather large for a megacity like Beijing. ... There is not a timetable for expanding the new second-child policy to all the couples in the city," he said.
Besides Beijing, Tianjin municipality and the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Anhui also updated their family planning policies.
Provincial-level governments in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, and Hubei and Jiangsu provinces have announced their intentions to relax the policy in March. Others, including Hunan and Qinghai provinces and Shanghai municipality, promised changes within the first half of this year.
The legislative affairs committee also suggested that city officials work to improve policies to support people such as senior couples who have only one child and couples who lost their only child.
In December, the National Health and Family Planning Commission mandated that local authorities increase standard subsidies to 340 yuan (S$70.75) per person per month for middle-aged couples in urban areas who had lost their only child but hadn't adopted or given birth to another.
"We are soon going to announce the city's new subsidy standards, which will be higher than the national standards," said Geng, adding that authorities are working on improving pension policies for senior couples who have only one child.