What should the west learn from China
By C Addul
THE World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently stressed at the special summit of the G20 leaders on the COVID-19 epidemic that the virus that is growing at an exponential rate is a global crisis and it requires a global response and action. Based on the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world, the United States ranks first. Mainland China, which was the first to experience a severe epidemic, has stabilized around 82,000 infections. It has nearly turned all domestic cases to zero nationwide, except for newly confirmed imported cases, which are under strict control. China’s recovered patients account for more than 90% of the total number of infections. Today, less than 3,000 sick patients are hospitalized in China from COVID19, and expectantly all cases will be cleared soon.
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 infections in Europe and the United States keeps soaring, and is far from reaching the epidemic’s peak. The WHO complained that western countries had wasted two months of emergency response time that China bought at the cost of lockdowns and self-sacrifice to secure the world against COVID19. The New York Times criticized the US president for being too late on deploying epidemic prevention, which has rapidly deteriorated the US epidemic. Countries such as Italy and Spain in Europe also missed the time window and suffered a severe blow from the epidemic.
Fortunately, while the COVID-19 is spreading around the world, China has achieved progress in controlling the epidemic, and has gradually resumed the economic and social operations, enabling it to free up its hands to accelerate the production of epidemic prevention materials to aid those countries with severe outbreaks. China’s experience from more than two months of fighting the coronavirus is helpful to the western countries amid the disaster.
There are a few experiences in China’s tackling of the outbreak. Primarily, it is to stay vigilant and highly alert to the epidemic.
When the first signs of the outbreak of an unknown pneumonia emerged in Wuhan, Hubei at the end of December last year, the local health officials immediately launched a virus research to try to control the epidemic. The state health authorities received the report and the Chinese government informed the WHO and other countries including United States about the epidemic situation as early as January 3, 2020. Afterwards the US was continuously informed for 30 times within two months, in an attempt by the Chinese government to draw extreme attention to the potential spread of an epidemic.
This is the lesson China learned from a blow of SARS in 2003, and since then an operation plan for epidemic prevention has been standardized, and the system of case report was put into practice in all levels of government. The vertical office network of the National Health Commission has been established in various provinces and cities. The disease control system can effectively monitor the outbreak. Over the past 17 years, a fever clinic service, training of personnel in the epidemic prevention system, community grid management, and e-commerce supporting systems have been run smoothly.
The improvement of other logistics systems has laid a social foundation for coping with unexpected crises. The essential point is that the state leadership’s priority of putting people’s health enables the implementation of various measures. For example, traffic channels between Wuhan and other parts of the country were closed, preventing a large number of potential carriers of viruses from spreading to other provinces and cities. As a result, there were no large-scale epidemic outbreaks in other provinces and cities.
However, China’s approach to delay the virus’ spread has not drawn the attention and emulation of the European and American countries. From February 7 to 19, the US President Donald Trump repeatedly stated that the virus will be gone when the weather is getting warmer. Some US netizens criticized Trump for focusing on economic benefits instead of preventing the epidemic. The US Atlantic Monthly pointed out that Trump kept downplaying the severity of COVID-19 during the early outbreak in the nation, believing that it was just a common flu.
Even in the upsurge of the global epidemic crisis, when the number of U.S. infection cases exceeded 100,000, ranking first in the world, Trump, nevertheless emphasized that the American people “must return to work” before Easter, and some politicians also publicly claimed it is more important to protect the economy than to save lives. The differences in administrative ideas for China and the United States have led to different anti-epidemic measures.
Likewise, European countries are also insouciant to the outbreaks, insisting that city lockdowns hinder people’s freedom and violate human rights, and they believed that assembly activities and normal social activities should not be firmly restricted. As a result, the epidemic spread rapidly, the medical system collapsed, and the fatality rate shot up. It was too late when they were finally forced to restrict travel.
When ignorance of the spread of the coronavirus led to the collapse of their medical systems, some British politicians even proposed the theory of “herb immunity”, which is tantamount to giving up lives. The Swedish government once called for a stop to publishing reports with infection numbers to cover up the epidemic.
For developed countries in Europe and the United States, the medical system is more advanced than China, but because of different administrative ideas, they have not been able to use the wartime mode like in China to mobilize resources across the country to respond to the crisis.
The methods China used in fighting the epidemic are actually the most basic medical common sense, called “early prevention, early detection, early isolation, and early treatment.” When infectious diseases are prevalent, the first thing to do is to protect yourself, such as wearing a face mask, washing your hands frequently, and keeping social distancing. However, western countries disagree with wearing face masks. People who wear face masks are easily deemed to be sick, so when highly infectious viruses with saliva droplets as the main route of transmission are prevalent, people without face masks are extremely vulnerable to infection. In addition, the partying western life is conducive to the acceleration of the spread of infection.
Back to the Yuan Dynasty in China’s history, the face mask prevention model appeared in people’s daily life. According to the journal of Marco Polo, who traveled to China in 1275, those who served the emperor’s diet must be covered with a face towel made of silk and gold threads. The towels prevented their breath and saliva droplets from transmitting infections into the emperor’s food. This kind of towel is the earliest face mask which has been used in China for at least 700 years.
In foreign countries, the earliest use of face masks was at the end of the 19th century. In 1897, Ridge, a German doctor realized that in order to avoid transmitting infections from the bacteria in his nose to the patient, causing wound infection, he needed to use gauze during surgery to cover the mouth and nose. Since then, other countries have followed the usage.
When the epidemic first broke out, Chinese people first thought of wearing face masks. Although the face masks were extremely in short supply initially, the Chinese desperately collected face masks from all corners of the world and started to wear them every time they leave their homes. This helped to delay and block initial infection. The protection for medical care personnel is also a top priority. Except for a large number of infections that occurred to medical workers who were unaware of the virus in the early days, very few medical personnel have been infected after the COVID-19 was officially identified. This was achieved through use of face masks, protection suits and goggles that were provided to the medical personnel in priority, so that the loss of medical workers against the epidemic was greatly reduced, and the human resources for the treatment of patients with the virus can be sustained.
The importance of face masks’ protection was sadly ignored by the people in European and American countries. At the start of the epidemic in the west, officials declared no need to wear face masks, as long as they wash their hands frequently. This ended up with a disaster in the west because of their culture and tradition. On the one hand, their mask inventory is seriously insufficient and heavily dependent on the market supply. Once there is a shortage, high-priced snap-ups occur. On the other hand, they encourage people to leave masks to medical workers. Most ordinary people do not wear these preventive face masks. The result is that they are easily infected. The Prince Charles and the Prime Minister were affected by public events because they refused to wear face masks.
China’s national system has played an important role in the allocation of medical resources. In western countries, especially the United States, the federal system is unable to efficiently allocate the medical resources. In China’s case, when the supplies were in severe shortage in the early times of the outbreak, the medical system just suffered a partial paralysis in Wuhan. However, when the central government urgently deployed materials and human resources to assist Wuhan, this shortage crisis was quickly resolved.
Facing the extreme shortage of medical workers in Wuhan, more than 40,000 medical people across the country were mobilized to go to the hospitals in Wuhan; when Wuhan hospital beds were not enough, two specialist infectious disease hospitals were built within 10 days, and numerous mobile cabin hospitals with tens of thousands of beds were set up; when epidemic prevention materials were in short supply in Wuhan, they were quickly supported by provinces and cities across the country and many enterprises. Meals, accommodation, and even emotions of medical staff are taken good care of by people across the country. This is what China calls its system advantage of “concentrating all power on doing important things.”
In contrast, serious shortages of virus testing kits in the United States have hindered the progress of diagnosis, caused a large number of potential infections around the community. When 50 states reached out to the president for medical supplies, the president was unable to satisfy them, only asking them to help themselves. The Chinese government promised free treatment to its citizens at the outset of the epidemic, which dispelled the no-money worry of some people who were supposed to go to the hospital when in need, and this policy prevented the epidemic from spreading. In the early stages of the epidemic, the United States did not issue an anti-epidemic budget on time. Some people without medical insurance were unwilling to go to the hospital for diagnosis and they were not included in medical management, which also led to the virus spread.
During the anti-epidemic period, the Chinese government mobilized medical scientific and technological forces to develop effective drugs. A total of 7 versions of targeted medication were updated for use by hospitals. The medical system plays a good role in preventing patients from developing into severe cases, and research on vaccines was also under progress. Phase II clinical trials have begun in China. In the approach taken by the United States, it seems there is no focus on effective medication. The US President merely hoped “immortals will rescue” and urged pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccines to save the crisis faster than normal time, but a team of medical experts told him that they need 12 to 18 months to develop the vaccine. Trump still claimed in an election campaign that the vaccine would be ready “soon”.
Governments across China have implemented stringent restrictions on residents’ travel, and the Chinese people are cooperative in complying with relevant regulations, which lead to a quick block of the virus transmission. However, many countries in the west did not attach great importance to quarantine measures during the early stages of the epidemic, and they had frequent social activities without wearing face masks, that led to serious consequences. According to the US Political News website, Trump is working on a guideline aimed at calling off travel restrictions for Americans and mitigating the economic damage caused by the outbreak. In many parts of the United States, the policy of “extending social distancing” is ignored. The US government does not understand the logic that only by controlling the epidemic can they stabilize the economy.
The short-term sacrifice made by China ushered in the victory against the epidemic, which in turn created opportunities for the restart of manufacturing. The pace of Chinese enterprises’ restart of work and production accelerated in March, and many companies used the Internet to promote the revival of the domestic demand market. The rapid development of e-commerce in China is providing strong support for the social operation during the epidemic and the later period. During the epidemic, even cities were closed and the stay home order was executed, but the grocery supplies were not interrupted. After the work restarted, anti-epidemic products were produced in full speed, not only for the domestic market, but also for export. The restarted manufacturing is stepping up completion of domestic and international orders, including tens of thousands of respirators required by New York City. Without China’s effective response to the epidemic, it is impossible to control the epidemic in a short time and resume the economy.
Similarly, before significant progress has been made in the control of the epidemic in the west and the greater world, the impatience to restore daily economic operations and normal life is harmful to the public health and is not realistic. China has set an example for the west to fight the epidemic, just as the WHO has repeatedly reiterated its call to learn from China. To reverse the epidemic in western countries, it is necessary to change the deviations in cultural tradition and system design.