Expert Speak Health Express
Published on Apr 11, 2020
How China overcame the Covid-19 pandemic

The domestic transmission of the Covid-19 virus has been cut off on the whole in China. It was never going to be an easy job, but through strenuous efforts and tremendous sacrifices, as well as the sympathy and support from the international community, the goal was achievable. Covid-19 is a new kind of virus, and China was its first major victim. Therefore, China’s war against the virus was inevitably going to be full of challenges, despite being able to identify the pathogen in record time.

In the wake of the outbreak, China faced an either-or situation: Economic development or people’s lives. The Chinese leadership believes that people’s lives are priceless and worth any short-term economic fallout. Thus an unprecedented anti-epidemic campaign, commanded and deployed by President Xi Jinping, was rapidly launched in China with the whole Communist Party and people from all walks of life joining in the great struggle. But how exactly was China’s anti-pandemic strategy?

Wuhan quarantine

The Chinese government was quick to quarantine Wuhan and mobilise all possible resources for support. Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province and the epicenter of Covid-19 pandemic in China, was put under lockdown to stem the spread of the disease across the mainland and beyond. Wuhan residents were not allowed to go out of the city, while basic essentials and medical supplies kept flowing inside.

Hubei province’s treatment capacity was significantly boosted by the 346 medical teams and 42,000 medical staff from other provinces who volunteered to travel there between 24 January to 8 March. Two Covid-19 specialised hospitals equipped with 5G systems, advanced medical facilities and 2000 beds were built in the city within 10 days, while 16 makeshift hospitals (with 30,000 beds) were established to treat people with mild symptoms. Additionally, to identify all those infected, medical staff in Wuhan even screened all 14 million residents.

Country-wide partial quarantine

The lockdown measures from Wuhan were first expanded to the Hubei province and then partially to the rest of the country. During the peak time, transport lines linking provinces, cities, or even villages were under control, and non-essential public facilities like gardens, museums, cinemas and restaurants were closed. People were advised to avoid unnecessary travel, social activities and gatherings. Wearing a face mask and having the average body temperature were musts for access to public areas, including supermarkets  and outdoor vegetable markets. People who had recently travelled to Wuhan were classified into high-risk groups and put under home quarantine for two weeks. Those who showed Covid-19 symptoms were taken to designated hospitals by negative-pressure ambulances for further examination and treatment. All expenses were covered by medical insurance and government subsidies.

Transparency, solidarity and logistics

China was able to enhance the people’s solidarity with government efforts to fight the virus through information transparency, employing effective anti-epidemic measures, and ensuring the availability of essential items. People were updated every day on the dynamics of the pandemic and the government’s efforts to resolve the crisis. With the government’s efforts showing results, people’s confidence was bolstered, and they gladly abided by the guidelines and restrictions, in turn contributing to the anti-epidemic efforts.

People could continue to buy whatever they wanted online, as both essential economic sectors and the logistics system are operating normally. Even during the worst days in Wuhan, the people did not suffer because a new logistics system was put into place by grassroots officials and volunteers. With their basic needs being met, the Wuhan people would rather stay at home than go outside and risk being infected.

Boosting medical supplies

The fight against Covid-19 was called the ‘People’s War’ in China: healthcare staff fighting on the frontline; officials and volunteers providing logistics support; and the common people protecting each other from being infected. Everyone was a fighter and every fighter needed armour and weapons. In this war, the armour and weapons were personal protective equipment, disinfectants and drugs. But despite being a healthcare manufacturing powerhouse, China was unable to meet the massive demand for medical supplies immediately.

To overcome the challenge, the Chinese government took two approaches simultaneously. First, producers were encouraged to expand capacity or switch to manufacturing other items that were in dire need. To ease the concerns of face mask producers, the government even promised to purchase all unsold masks after the pandemic ends. Second, the government curbed any arbitrary price hike through harsh regulations, and even set up hotlines to record consumer complaints. Chinese producers were soon able to meet domestic demand and supply to other countries.

Moving forward

China’s anti-epidemic strategy has proved successful. The rate of infection peaked early on and soon began to decline. By 23 March, the domestic transmission of the virus had been blocked, according to the statement released after a meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang. China has begun an orderly resumption of work and production, while taking steps to prevent a domestic rebound in infections or imported cases. As of 28 March, 98.6% major industrial enterprises in China have resumed production. Even in Hubei, 95% major industrial enterprises have returned to normal, and about 70% workers have returned to work. Since 8 April, even Wuhan, the last area under lockdown, has come back to normal.

China has won the major campaign in the war against Covid-19. But the government and people will never forget that 79 countries, including India, and 10 international organisations, provided valuable assistance to China in the critical period of the anti-pandemic fight. Reciprocating an act of kindness is China’s fine tradition. As of 31 March, China has provided emergency aid in the form of medical supplies, antivirus experience and funds to 120 countries and four international organisations. And many Chinese local governments, enterprises and non-government institutions are also actively and voluntarily contributing to the anti-pandemic campaign around the world. The Covid-19 pandemic recognises no border, ethnicity or religion, rendering all humankind a community with a shared future. If all countries band together in the fight against Covid-19, the pandemic will soon be swept away, and the world will walk into a better future.

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Bai Lianlei

Bai Lianlei

Bai Lianlei is an Associate Research Fellow at China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) in Beijing China. His research focuses on South Asian affairs with ...

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