• February 23rd, 2020

FOCUS: Coronavirus battle in China: Processes and prospects



Since the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) epidemic broke out in Wuhan in late December 2019, the Chinese government has taken robust measures to curb the spread
of the deadly virus, most notably a full quarantine on Wuhan, the epicentre of the
outbreak, and strong control and preventive measures in such metropolitan areas as
Beijing and Shanghai as well as other population centres around China. These efforts
have received wide media coverage at home and abroad and major questions have been
raised as to: firstly, why did the government impose an unprecedented lockdown on
Wuhan? Secondly, are the Chinese central government and local authorities competent
enough to contain the virus? Thirdly, what are the negative effects of the epidemic on
China’s economy? And fourthly, what kind of international cooperation is required to
ensure human security in the face of epidemics? As the combat against the epidemic is
still evolving, here are some tentative answers and assessments given by a task force
specializing in global governance issues at Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

Why were mass quarantines exercised on Wuhan and other epidemic areas?
Quarantine is a traditional and yet the most effective measure to contain a deadly
epidemic, although it may bring unforeseen risks and consequences. 
Because there is no specific cure or vaccine against virus-caused infections (including 2019-nCoV), standard public health emergency measures usually prove most efficient, including
isolating the sources of infection, cutting off or interrupting transmission routes, and
special care for the most susceptible people. 

Available medical evidence shows that humans, regardless of gender, age, or race, are all susceptible to this deadly new coronavirus; thus, in the absence of specific cure or vaccine, source isolation and transmission chain interruption are by far the only reliable and effective methods.  The unprecedented exercise of a full quarantine on Wuhan, the heart of the outbreak, reflects China’s dedication as a responsible great power. In fact, since the quarantine began, the number of confirmed cases in all regions has grown at a much lower speed than that in the epicentre Hubei province; and Wuhan remains the only city with concentrated infections. Of all the confirmed cases outside Hubei province, the majority of patients have either lived in or travelled to Wuhan or other areas of Hubei recently, and the rest have been in close contact with the above-mentioned patients. 

So far, there has been no reported incident of local community transmission or any new epicentre of outbreak. Based on these facts, we can conclude that strict control over population outflows from Hubei province is an effective way to contain the spread of the deadly virus. At present, high-level emergency alerts have been activated all across China and vigorous public health measures taken to identify, diagnose, and isolate infections or suspected cases at the earliest possible moment. At the same time, the Lunar New Year holidays have been extended to keep the nation-wide migration of population at the minimum level; and travellers from Wuhan and other epidemic areas are advised to report their travel records and to self-quarantine for two weeks to prevent community transmission. The reported five million people who had left Wuhan before the lockdown announcement are not
panicky evacuees, but migrant workers seeking family reunions.

What would happen if China had not closed off Wuhan and other epidemic areas?
According to credible analysis, highly-connected global transport networks may enable
contagious pathogens to spread from backwater villages in unknown corners of the
world to major cities on six continents in less than 36 hours and trigger outbreaks or
cause epidemics. Yet in China, by January 30, 2020, more than a month after the first
confirmed case was reported and eight days after the Wuhan lockdown, there had been
18 countries reporting 98 scattered cases of infection altogetheraccording to the latest
WHO report.  Had the Chinese government not taken determined efforts to quarantine
the places with concentrated confirmed cases, the deadly virus may have spread all over
the world and generated devastating impact on the global economic and public health
systems. As WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesuson correctly pointed
out at a press conference on January 30, “the Chinese government is to be congratulated
for the extraordinary measures it has taken to contain the outbreak, despite the severe
social and economic impact those measures are having on the Chinese people.”

Beijing is doing everything possible to ensure sustained supplies of daily necessities
and medical materials. Hubei province is abundant in natural resources and basic
supplies have never fallen short. supplying mechanism involving nine provincial authorities, through which basic items, including medical materials, steadily flow into Hubei. It is a long-running tradition for the Chinese to store more than enough food and other items for the Spring Festival season and many households in Wuhan have already accumulated ample supplies before the lockdown. So, there is not a general shortage of food or other life necessities.

Wuhan citizens are not left in a deserted city to their own devices. Food supplies and
basic social services are fully ensured. Although Wuhan’s public, transport has been
suspended, local residents’ personal freedom has not been restricted and most
households have opted for self-quarantine to avoid potential infection. 

Those who have to travel are offered vehicles by community-level organizations. Public mood is improving as local residents’ lives begin to come back to normal with regular
information disclosure and stepped-up personal hygienic measure, hometowns or holiday travellers. 

*This shortened article was sourced from the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) that was founded in 1960, the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS). SIIS is a government-affiliated high-calibre think tank dedicated to informing government
decision-making by conducting policy-oriented studies in world politics, economics, foreign policy, and international security. SIIS maintains intensive and extensive exchanges and cooperation with research institutions at home and abroad, bolstering China’s international influence and soft power.


Staff Reporter
2020-02-04 07:51:11 | 19 days ago

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