How China contained coronavirus

On Saturday, China held a national mourning for its doctors, paramedics and citizens who died in the fight against novel coronavirus and the patients who died of COVID-19.

The mourning day serves as an appropriate occasion to document China’s response to the global pandemic and what other affected countries could learn from it.

China’s response to the outbreak has been remarkable and unprecedented at several levels. Here are nine.

First, the decisive and clear-headed leadership developed through one-party CPC rule and incumbents’ graduation to positions of authority with years of experience in managing local and national affairs. The authorities in Wuhan city and Hubei province in central China, the epicentre of the outbreak, wasted no time in locking down cities when it was clear that the virus is deadly to humans. The one-party rule also saved time that democracies usually need in building bipartisan or multi-party consensus on potentially consequential decisions.

Second, the Chinese people did not react to quarantine and lockdown restrictions with resistance or panic. They stayed in their homes and when outside, used masks to stop the transmission of the virus to potentially millions more and helped the authorities flatten the curve. There was no panic among the general public in buying items of daily use like masks, paper towels or water like what we saw in recent weeks in the US or other affected countries.

Third, China, as the ‘factory of the world’, was able to produce enough masks, sanitisers, PPEs, medical equipment and supplies to meet its demand in Wuhan, Hubei and other cities when the outbreak spread there. In fact, during a research in late January, I learnt that overseas Chinese bought masks from local markets and sent these back to China to meet local needs.

Fourth, using technology, China was able to monitor, track and quarantine infected individuals and carriers of coronavirus. Nothing escaped the state. It was the same technology that South Korea and Singapore used to track and isolate patients from populations at large, the latter with much faster response time.

Fifth, true to the proverbial ‘China speed’, China was able to construct a 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan in 10 days to admit coronavirus patients. Chinese doctors and paramedics fought the infectious disease with extra hours and dedication and some even gave their lives. The survivors will be long indebted to these brave individuals. Similarly, as opposed to other countries like the US and Europe, the availability of enough diagnostic kits for testing the large population was not an issue in China.

Sixth, hoping that the data about confirmed cases and deaths provided by China’s CDC is correct and not under-reported as many in the west believe, China was able to control the speed of new cases and resulting deaths. Since I started sharing the count of cases on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook every day since Wuhan was locked down on January 23, the percentage increase had been relatively small and in two digits. It was only between February 10-24, that the new reported deaths were in triple digits, 254 being the highest number on February 13. Now, compare that with Italy’s highest single-day deaths of 971 on March 28, 1,059 in United States on April 2, 950 in Spain on April 3, 743 in UK and 509 in France on April 2.

Seventh, true to a YouGov survey of optimist populations in the world and China ranking at top, by February 3, China’s CDC started updating the figures for recovered patients. The daily recovery count shifted the global outlook from confirmed cases and deaths to new hope and optimism.

Eighth, where cities and populations were not as severely affected by coronavirus, China remained business as usual where it could: inbound and outbound flights remained operational and factories remained open. Supply of essential items, food, groceries was not affected. The municipal services and disinfecting the cities continued unaffected.

Ninth, fighting fake news, propaganda and Western accusations. On January 24, US President Trump tweeted praise for President Xi Jinping in containing the coronavirus outbreak, because by that time the virus’ impact was in early stages and limited to the China mainland. When in March, the coronavirus hit other countries and the US in particular, Trump became critical of China and started calling it the ‘China virus’, a racist term. Many other analysts called it Wuhan virus. China, in concert with WHO, faced this fake news phenomena with balance and resilience. There are still articles being published on mysteries about the origin of virus, the whistleblowing doctor, suppression of information and slow initial Chinese response and the veracity of CDC numbers. Accusations and counter-accusations are in play on Twitter and the media outlets of the world and countries both have expelled each other’s journalists.

By mid-March it was clear that the pandemic curve had flattened in China as no new domestic cases were reported on March 18-20, and Chinese businesses could restore their work routine. While these were now being shut down in rest of the world including the US, on March 13, all 42 Apple Stores were reopened in China. In the second fortnight of March and first fortnight in April, China was the only place on earth where Apple Stores were open.

On March 25, China lifted the lockdown in Hubei with the exception of Wuhan and opened transport services. From April 8, outbound traffic from Wuhan will be available.

By end-February, it appeared that new coronavirus epicentres had started to emerge – first Iran and South Korea, and then European countries – Italy in particular – followed by Spain, Netherlands, Germany, and the UK. The United States followed.

By March 19, Italy had crossed China in confirmed deaths at 3,200. Now, deaths in Italy are five times that of China.

By March 26, the US had crossed China in the confirmed number of cases, then at 82,000. Now, the US has nearly 300,000 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

It was now China’s turn to make its lessons learnt available to the rest of the world. China offered information sharing, case handling expertise, medical supplies and even Chinese doctors and paramedics to the new coronavirus epicentres of the world. It is now sending ventilators, masks and medics to Italy, France, Iran, the UK, and Pakistan.

China is now in a position to act as the world’s largest benefactor both in terms of how it contained the coronavirus outbreak which it can pass on to rest of the world, but also in supplying testing kits, ventilators and medical supplies and even doctors. President Xi has extended a hand to all world leaders including US President Trump. But it was not until March 27. when the US coronavirus cases surpassed China’s, that President Trump tweeted about working closely with China. Hope this bodes well for both world superpowers and humanity at large.

With the leadership of American President Donald Trump and UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, Chinese President Xi Jinping is emerging as a capable leader who can help the world fight the pandemic. I am reminded of what was said by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to reporters on March 16, “The only country that can help us is China. For the rest of them [EU leaders], thanks for nothing.”

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