The fight against the novel coronavirus pneumonia (NCP) has entered a critical phase. What lessons can China offer the world in dealing with COVID-19? In what aspects can China make further progress? How has China interacted with the international community? Following the release on Friday, February 15, of a report: “China’s Fight Against COVID-19 Epidemic: A Decisive Campaign,” by the Shanghai Institute for International Studies (SIIS), Global Times (GT) talked to authors of the report over these issues.
GT: Your report calls the current fight against the novel coronavirus pneumonia a “decisive campaign.” Where do we now stand in this campaign?
Chen Dongxiao (president of the SIIS): Our position depends on the situation in two battlefields: One is Central China’s Hubei Province centered on Wuhan, and the other is the rest of the country. The two battlefields are of a different nature and involve differing tasks.
As the epicenter of the outbreak, Wuhan is the priority among priorities. Our current tasks there should be to figure out the total number of infected cases and allow all of the patients to be treated. Meanwhile, we should focus on reducing the infection and fatality rates. With the country’s previous efforts, the situation in Wuhan and some other parts of Hubei Province is getting better, but still sticky.
The rest of the country should be consolidating their achievements while continuing to support the epicenter. The vast majority of provinces excluding Hubei have witnessed a decline in newly confirmed cases for more than 10 consecutive days. As long as the trend is not reversed in the next one to two weeks, the inflection point of the epidemic will gradually appear in various regions.
Other regions should provide support and confidence for the Wuhan battlefield to win the ultimate victory.
GT: The report believes that the inflection point for the novel coronavirus pneumonia to some extent depends on the “collective efforts of the Chinese government and people.” At the current stage, how do you evaluate the Chinese government’s measures and people’s behavior in the face of the epidemic? As major Chinese cities witness a travel rush after the Spring Festival holidays, can these collective efforts withstand the pressure?
Lu Chuanying (secretary general, Research Center for International Cyberspace Governance, SIIS): The number of infection cases in China, except for the epicenter of Central China’s Hubei Province, declined for the 11th consecutive day on Friday. On February 3, 890 new cases were confirmed, but the number was 221 on Friday. It is highly likely this trend will continue next week.
Some provinces have even seen zero newly confirmed cases for several consecutive days. And in multiple regions for days more patients were cured than confirmed. All these outcomes suggest the collective efforts of the Chinese government and people are effective. The positive side of the epidemic has surfaced.
On the other hand, major cities in China are facing pressure from post-holiday travel rush. The government and enterprises are now very concerned about this. Measures have been taken including checking travelers, asking them to quarantine themselves at home for two weeks and dissuading people from NCP-stricken areas from returning to the cities in which they work. These measures are playing a great role in controlling the epidemic.
The epidemic in cities including North China’s Beijing, East China’s Shanghai and South China’s Guangzhou and Shenzhen have all stood the test posed by the population in the first week of the travel rush.
However, as the incubation period has not yet passed, these cities can by no means take the situation lightly. It is believed that as long as governments and enterprises shoulder their responsibilities and ordinary people adopt necessary self-protection measures, the virus can ultimately be defeated.
GT: You said in your report that China can offer some lessons in tackling the “unique challenges” for epidemic prevention and control in cities. What experience can the world learn from China in this regard? And how should these cities balance epidemic control and economic development?
Liu Kan (associate professor, Institute of Global Governance, SIIS): In recent years, infectious diseases such as SARS, H1N1, MERS and the Ebola virus have caused serious public health crises in the international community.
Several lessons can be learnt from China’s dealing with the novel coronavirus.
First, the government must establish a grid-based and refined management mechanism to respond to public health crises, in cities and villages, and should give full play to the role of community organizations.
Second, the country should enhance the government’s ability to respond rapidly to crisis. Especially in the face of novel infectious diseases, medical research institutions, governments at all levels and ordinary people all need a gradual process to become aware. The key is that governments should be able to grasp the tendency of public health crises in a timely manner and make quick adjustments in accordance with the developing situation.
Third, a country should make full use of modern technology and develop applied technologies in response to public health crises.
In addition, as soon as the virus begins to spread, the entire country should be mobilized and efficient governmental intervention is necessary. The central government needs to rapidly mobilize nationwide medical staff and resources to support the epicenter and meanwhile should classify patients in different conditions so as to cut off the source of infection and more reasonably allocate medical resources.
Major cities are the engines of the Chinese economy. Resuming economic activities as soon as possible in these cities – except for Wuhan — is important. The Chinese government has already taken effective steps, including encouraging telecommuting, distance education and telemedicine, which have ensured certain industries’ operations. Authorities have also provided support for key industries to resume work through financial and labor policies, and have helped smaller enterprises tide over difficulties.
Except in key areas such as Wuhan, we should combine efforts to not only control the epidemic, but also push for development, reform and stability.
GT: In what ways should China improve its prevention and control of epidemics as well as public health emergency management?
Zhou Yiqi (associate fellow, Institute of comparative politics and public policy studies, SIIS): Above all, transparency of information should be increased and the public supervision needs to be enhanced. Important information of public interest should be released in a timely and accurate manner.
Second, public health institutions should be given more independence and entitled to issue public health information and warnings based on scientific evidence.
Third, grass-roots health agencies should further strengthen their abilities to cope with a public health crisis including personnel training, material reserves and building hardware.
Fourth, the country should encourage and support non-governmental organizations at the grass-roots level to engage more in the public health crisis response, especially in areas that involve donations and distribution.
Fifth, the media’s supervisory role should be brought into play. Media outlets need to bear the responsibility of supervising public opinion in the early stages of public health crises, publish accurate, objective reports and warn the government and society.
GT: Your report concludes that “international cooperation proves increasingly important in the war against the COVID-19 epidemic.” How do you evaluate the international community’s role as well as the interactions between China and the world in response to the outbreak?
Lu Chuanying: The international community has played a significant role in China’s fight against the epidemic.
First, their efforts are a manifestation of international solidarity. China is on the frontline of the fight against the virus. It has been under the most serious pressure and has made the greatest sacrifice. The international community’s support and encouragement is essential, and can boost our confidence through international cooperation.
Second, the international community has provided assistance in medical resources and professional treatment. You can read in our report that as of February 7, more than 30 countries donated medical supplies to China. The WHO expert group also arrived in China to provide professional advice at the invitation of the Chinese government.
Third, it can efficiently strike back against false information so as to remove distractions in the global fight against the epidemic. Certain Western media outlets and politicians were spreading false information and staining China’s huge efforts to curb the epidemic. Many countries, in particular developing countries, and international organizations, including the WHO, have clarified and refuted those rumors in a timely manner. This is very important for international cooperation to combat the epidemic.
Cover of the report “China’s Fight Against COVID-19 Epidemic: A Decisive Campaign” by the Shanghai Institute for International Studies (SIIS) Photo: Courtesy of the SIIS