8 reflections from China’s experience in fighting COVID-19
No wonder the novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19), and people’s panic, are striking the whole world. The situation gets worse and worse, as confirmed cases, in various countries, soar overwhelmingly. Based on the current virus testing capacity, nearly 400,000 confirmed cases have been found outside of China. At least 48 nations have declared state of emergency, and 74 have taken border control measures. The virus spreads like wildfire, and worse is some governments’ slow responses, crushing people’s confidence and confidence in the market.
I agree, to some extent, with some people’s opinion that “China bought the West time. The West squandered it.” (title of Ian Johnson’s article, March 13th, New York Times) It is fair to say that the window of opportunity China earned for the world has been wasted more or less. Some people didn’t take the virus seriously, using the time to make fun of it or even taking the opportunity to vent their racial hatred. Now what?
However, it will never be too late, if we seize time now to face and try to combat this fatal infectious disease, a common enemy to the whole human species, in a manner of solidarity. To wipe out the virus, China’s successful experience is extremely helpful and enlightening, as China knows the pain and is getting through it. Here are at least eight crucial takeaways the world can learn from China’s measures.
NO. 1 & 2: Sense and Sensibility
On one hand, Chinese people showed to the world their sense, patience and resilience. China has shut down Wuhan, a huge city of 14 million people, since January 23rd. Restriction and isolation policies on different levels have also been carried out in other parts of China. Before the virus flooded in, a lot of people in other countries never realized that quarantine is an option needed to be seriously considered. Instead, they were always arguing that the series of restrictive measures taken by China were appalling and infringed on human rights.
However, the logic behind these measures is simple and self-evident – to stop the virus from transmitting through controlling the movement of people. In China, a lot of traffic was banned; public gatherings at Spring Festival were canceled; entertainment venues were closed; national vacation was extended; and a 14-day home quarantine was required after cross-provincial travel. These old-school measures proved unbelievably effective as a national-wide pandemic didn’t occur. If that occurred, it would be a catastrophic disaster for China, home to 1.4 billion people, and its public health system would definitely collapse into pieces, resulting in numerous deaths, which is unimaginable.
A very important hint given by China to other countries is that, the only mature approach of fixing this problem is to focus on the problem itself. To politicize and stigmatize, by pointing the finger at a country or naming virus after a race, does not help to save lives and secure votes.
On the other hand, Chinese people’s sensibility, confidence and optimism, in particular people-centered spirit played a significant role in the course of fighting COVID-19. Just like Dr. Dan Steinbock argues, “It was the deep commitment of the Chinese people to collective action, which was devised and implemented by Chinese leaders, that made possible broad containment and its enforcement… In the battle against the coronavirus, we are only as strong as our weakest links.” (Eurasia Review, March 16th)
China technically sealed up various places, which didn’t mean resigning the locals’ lives to Darwinism. Instead, they worked against clock to put unlimited medical, technological, financial and human resources into these locked areas, with the determination of using up every bullet of the whole country. In terms of national priorities, China puts people’s lives before GDP and the stock market.
Nearly 400 medical teams from every province of China and the military, gathered and worked on the front line of Hubei, the province in most need, composed of more than 40,000 doctors and nurses, even though their hometowns had been always working on containing their own outbreaks. People know the remarkable story of building up two specialized hospitals designated to treat severe patients in Wuhan merely in 10 days, from nothing and nowhere. But maybe they don’t know that many construction workers were volunteers, not hired, and some of the workers didn’t accept their wages, instead seeing their labor as a contribution to Wuhan, and some of them received wages but at their first thought donated them. Up until early March, 28 medical workers and 53 community workers, multiple volunteers, policemen, officials and others sacrificed their lives.
NO. 3 & 4: High tech & grass roots
On one hand, high tech helps a lot in China’s anti-virus battle. Artificial intelligence is used in assisting doctors to diagnose CT scans in Beijing. A company called Shukun Technology developed a software which can precisely calculate the size, density and severity of the infectious area of a lung just in 10 seconds by analyzing 300 layers of the lung’s CT scan, buying time for critically ill patients.
5G provides the best image quality (4K/8K) and the smoothest data transfer (millisecond delay) for remote medical consultations. On January 26th, experts from Sichuan Province conducted China’s, maybe the world’s as well, first 5G remote diagnosis on COVID-19 pneumonia. As a prestigious hospital in western China, Huaxi Hospital has remotely discussed COVID-19 treatment more than 200 times with their colleagues from nearly 700 hospitals in China. When the two specialized hospitals for COVID-19 mentioned above were being built, Huawei 5G base stations were implanted in.
From February 1st, two sterilization experts started to work at Nanjing First Hospital. Kids like them a lot because they are robots. One of them walks along the corridors and wards, spraying hydrogen peroxide and making sure it reaches every corner of the building and every slice of air. The other also the lazier one, stays in the area where suspected COVID-19 patients are received, and kills 100% of viruses and bacteria on the surface of any object in a room of 21 square meters in 5 minutes, through giving off intensive ultraviolet radiation. Similar and different robots are in widespread use in many major hospitals.
Furthermore, big data has been applied for statistics including counting confirmed and suspected patients, analyzing future situations, and tracking traffic flows. You can use smart phone applications to see where the confirmed patients have been, how far they were, and whether you took the same plane or train with them.
On the other hand, the fight against the virus is a grand social mobilization. It is common sense for Chinese people that no one is an outsider, everyone must take his own responsibility and do his part in winning this war. As Dr. Bruce Aylward of the WHO observed (March 4th, New York Times): “They are mobilized like in a war… They really saw themselves as being on the front line of protecting the rest of China, and the world.” Therefore, they brought up a lot of creative grass roots methods to resist COVID-19’s fierce attacks.
Henan is a province located in the central part of China, with 50 million people living in rural areas and 16 million elderly people. These uncles, aunties, grandpas and grannies often learn information in a relatively slow and incomplete manner. In order to increase people’s awareness of the epidemic, even at the very beginning of the outbreak, village heads in Henan started broadcasting to their fellow villagers through loud speakers some hilarious contents including original doggerel or folk songs. They were created for telling people the severity of the virus and the necessity of staying at home.
There was a picture reposted online thousands of times: At the entrance of his village, an uncle sits on a chair put on a desk, with a dramatically long ancient sword in his hand, like holding a fort. He shows his fortitude of refusing all visitors into the village, although people know he wouldn’t harm anyone.
60 million people, all online simultaneously, had supervised the whole construction process of those two specialized hospitals. A great deal of Vlogs were posted to vie for who was the most talented in killing boring quarantine time at home — playing ping-pong on the meal table, angling in a fish bowl, playing curling with pots bashing into each other and mobs sweeping the floor, etc. Also before, the drones people bought have never played such an important role. Now they got to fly reconnaissance and remonstrate cards or mahjong players who broke the restrictive rules of social distancing.
In epidemic control, Chinese people showed the world that every common person could be a hero, if he or she seriously plays his or her part. It’s not reassuring to see, however, that a lot of people in other countries are unwilling to wear masks and even laugh at those who wear them. In a striking contrast, Chinese people condemn those who don’t wear masks in public or break social distancing rules. Perhaps politicians and celebrities should start to wear masks on TV. The message they could send to the public would not be panic, but necessary vigilance.
NO. 5 & 6: Government transparency & cooperate contribution
Counter-intuitively to some people, the Chinese government indeed pays a great deal in efforts on information transparency to its public and the world. It has been approved in China’s practice that the more epidemic information people receive, the more solidarity people foster for unifying public opinion, rumors being dispelled and confidence being built. Accusing China of lacking transparency lacks real evidence. To respond to the question concerning the accuracy of China’s patients statistics, Dr. Bruce Aylward said in an interview with the New York Times: “I know there’s suspicion, but at every testing clinic we went to (in Wuhan), people would say, ‘It’s not like it was three weeks ago.’ … Hospitals had empty beds (when I was in Wuhan).” At the very beginning of the outbreak, China identified the pathogen in a record-short time, and shared the genetic sequence of the virus in a rapid manner with the world. If you follow China’s news closely, you will find that Chinese authorities give you an information explosion every day.
Every day, there is a figure update — China’s National Health Commission tells people the numbers of confirmed cases, suspected cases and deaths across the country as quickly and accurately as possible.
Every day, there are press conferences as well — the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council holds ministerial level and sub-ministerial level press conferences talking about not only the epidemic situation itself but also a wide range of specific topics surrounding the epidemic, e.g. work resumption, market regulation, medical waste disposal, viral containment in rural areas, people’s livelihoods, personal protection, international cooperation on the epidemic, to name but a few.
Apart from these, provincial and sub-provincial cities hold press conferences in the meantime. For instance, on February 18th, Bengbu, a city 350 miles away from Wuhan, was giving its 12th press conference, talking about its roughly 100 confirmed cases being treated in hospital.
Not only officials, but also heroes on the front line including medical experts, volunteers, delivery workers, neighborhood workers and so on, would come to the podium and tell what they know, what they see and what they think.
Although China manufactures 50% of the world’s masks, its production capacity was still far behind demand when this disease emerged, as so many people needed such a big number of masks in such a short time. A lot of Chinese companies payed back society in the outbreak in this way.
To make up for the shortage, a line of Daddybaby in Fuqing City, Fujian Province, produces 700,000 masks per day. However, it was a diaper line 12 days ago. On February 13th, van manufacturer Wuling’s first masks rolled off the line, just 76 hours after the idea of making masks popped up. For now, its daily production capacity is at least 2 million. It is a little bit weird to see an automobile logo marking on masks, but it is moving to see these words printed on its wrapping — “What do we make? Depends on what do you need!” Even aerospace and petroleum giants joined in this mask campaign.
According to big data sources, from January 1st to February 7th, more than 3000 companies extended their business scopes to face masks, protective clothing, disinfectants, thermometers and medical equipment, transforming themselves into arsenals supporting epidemic front lines. On March 2nd, Chinese authorities said China’s mask output reached a record high of over 100 million per day, 12 times that of February 1st.
The US Department of Health and Human Services said in early March that the US healthcare system will need up to 3.5 billion N95 masks over a year, but the national stockpile currently holds only 12 million. The gap is wide. There must be international medical imports and domestic production lines transforming to fill this gap.
NO. 7 & 8: Domestic success & global efforts
On March 23rd, China’s Central Leading Group on Responding to Novel Coronavirus Disease Outbreak declared that “the transmission of the virus in the country, with Wuhan as the main battlefield, has basically been interrupted.” Regarding the economy, Chinese President Xi Jinping highlighted on the same day that “The restoration of normal production and everyday life has been shortened.”
It’s encouraging to see that medical assistance teams from all over the country began leaving Hubei from March 17th after nearly 60 days of a fight there. Wuhan is also going to lift travel restrictions at 00:00 on April 8th. Meanwhile, economically positive signs are showing — By the middle of March, over 95% of industrial firms, and 60% of small and medium-sized enterprises had resumed production, and 80 percent of enterprise employees had resumed work in China except for Hubei. The final victory day seems closer and closer. China moves on quickly. Such success is not something we learn, but something we earn.
As China becomes a safer place than other countries, Chinese people still see themselves as insiders but not onlookers in this global fight. China has given 20 million US dollars to the WHO for COVID-19 efforts. Chinese expert teams and supplies have been warmly welcomed by Serbian and Italian people. The Serbian president kissed and knotted two national flags at the airport when receiving the team. Meanwhile in Rome, people chanted “Grazie, Cina!” (“Thank you, China!”) on their balconies with the Chinese national anthem playing.
As Bloomberg reported on March 22nd, China deploys massive amounts of aid to Africa. Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma, sent 5.4 million face masks, more than 1 million testing kits, 40,000 items of protective clothing and 60,000 sets of protective facial shielding in his first shipment. Earlier, on March 16th, his first donations to the US included 1 million masks and 500,000 test kits arriving. According to orissadiary.com, a China-Europe freight train departed from Zhejiang Province, China, on March 21st, carrying anti-epidemic supplies including 110,000 surgical masks and 766 protective suits donated to Spain.
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang announced on March 20th that the Chinese government has offered help to 82 countries in total, the World Health Organization and the African Union in the fight against COVID-19. The other day, he said, in addition to intergovernmental assistance at the state level, local governments and enterprises in China have taken action and donated supplies to the worst-hit countries. Also so far public reports suggest that China sent expert teams to at least 5 countries, namely Italy, Iran, Iraq, Serbia and Cambodia.
Perhaps what some people can learn from China’s global efforts is to ask themselves this question — What’s the real point of politicization and stigmatization, when all of us are confronted with this fatal virus with no differentiation?
The race against COVID-19 is a cruel game with only one round. There will be no chance to play it again and we will not be able to bear the cost to play it again, as human lives are only chips in this game. China shared the genetic sequence of the virus in early January. Subsequently, some countries produced a great quantity of test kits, but others didn’t. A lot of countries have already missed the best timing of containment. They can’t afford to miss any more. The most dangerous situation in the future might be an uncontrollable plague or a total anarchy if we don’t act quickly, properly and aggressively.
If protection of life counts as the top priority of humanity at this moment, then modesty from learning from others ranks second. Thanks to the outbreak, people finally have had a good reason to shake off their ingrained superiority, preconception and stubbornness against others. It’s time to learn from other countries about the correct methodology in containing the epidemic, especially from China. It’s time for people to review what China is, and whether their condemnation, contempt, mockery, and ill-intentions regarding China’s collapse are fair. It’s also time for people to rethink how we as human beings can eliminate the global solidarity deficit and share a common future.