Photo: China opened Wuhan early April after 76-day lockdown. Credit: Anadolu Agency. - Photo: 2020

The Chinese Experience in Fighting COVID-19 and the Imperative of a Global Coalition – Part 1

Viewpoint by Teshome Toga Chanaka

This is the first of a two-part article by Teshome Toga Chanaka, currently Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ethiopia to China. Any views or opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the government and IDN, the flagship of non-profit International Press Syndicate.

BEIJING (IDN) – The outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was significant in the calendar of Chinese as it coincided with the beginning of the new Chinese spring festival, with an estimated movement of over 60 million Chinese throughout the country.

Since its startling outburst in Wuhan, China, towards the end of 2019, COVID-19 has now become a global pandemic. At the early stage of the spread of the virus, not few wrongly perceived it as a predicament solely affecting China. The reluctance and the pretence of hesitancy not to take the matter seriously and lack of early preparedness are costing humanity dearly.

Once COVID-19 stretched its wings throughout the world, the reaction was spontaneous, the response was disorganised and lacked clear global strategy and leadership. Many countries suspended flights and also evacuated their nationals from Wuhan, the sprawling capital of Central China’s Hubei province in response to the critical situation. The view was that this step would stop the spread of the virus across their borders. But the virus, without discrimination, knocked every edge across the board and has become ubiquitous.

Meanwhile, countries waited to respond until it knocked at their doors. Many friends and partners of China showered messages of sympathy and solidarity with the people and government of China, especially with the residents of Wuhan, the epicentre of COVID-19. Those who had the means, donated some medical equipment to assist the fight until China quickly shored up its capability in a short period.

Today COVID-19 has become an immense global challenge that tested the capacity of the existing health systems, political and religious leadership and the entire humanity. It is threatening and seriously disrupting social networks and cultural values. Global economies, big or small, are taken to ‘intensive care units’ (ICU); and, unless the global community joins hands against this evil and salvage the damage inflicted in continents like Africa, is indescribable.

COVID-19 is not only a global health catastrophe, but its implication is far broader and more profound. If not contained in the shortest possible time, like China has managed to do, the economic, social and cultural and hence the political and security consequences of COVID-19 could be much graver than we can all possible imagine.

The Chinese, despite some escalated rhetoric of accusations here and there, took very stringent measures to protect and control the COVID-19 spread. There cannot be any better proof to that than locking down, Wuhan city – a city of eleven million residents. Many countries and cities in Europe attempted to lockdown the entire towns and realms but could not contain the fast-spreading of the virus. Here is why?

In my opinion, for two simple reasons: Strict enforcement of the lockdown by the city administrations and also by the general public. I think that has made the distinct difference. By locking down, the epicentre, what the Chinese did was primarily containing the virus at the hotbed and halting the spreading to other parts of China. The official statistics clearly show that about three-fourths of the total infected caseloads in China was in Hubei Province and mainly in Wuhan city.

Whether that was a practical measure or not, let me cite one first case. The largest province of China, Guangdong, the region of over 100 million people, had overall infected cases of 1,588 as of April 15, 2020. Large cities like Beijing and Shanghai had by far less cases of 588 and 532 respectively. In other words, even if Wuhan paid the highest price and heavy sacrifices in relative terms, the Chinese strategy of protection and containment was effective. Lockdown of the city of Wuhan was accompanied by strict stay-at-home policy and those who travelled to Wuhan city before the lockdown remained there until the lockdown was lifted on April 8.

Some media have been tempted to criticise China for being so harsh and restrictive on its citizens. Policymaking has always been a matter of choice and the Chinese chose to take stringent measures which finally paid off. When the choice is between saving lives or maintaining personal freedom, then I would tend to go along with the decision made by China for taking stringent measures that helped save the lives of its citizens and those who are hosted by China. This is how a country has to fight a hard battle with an implacable enemy that is posing a clear and existential danger to its citizens.

Given the size of the population of China (1.4 billion) and given the fact that the virus is transmitted mainly through personal contacts, what better choice could one deploy to save the Chinese?  Staying indoors for 76 days is not a right or easy thing, but when the other evil is risking infection by COVID-19, rationally one opts for a lesser evil. If the Chinese had been allowed to move around freely in a crowd which is always congested because of their sheer size, today the result would have been, for sure, much different. Restricting movements and avoiding dangerous consequences were efficacious instruments of a reasonable policy choice.

The residents of Wuhan remained indoors for 11 weeks (from January 23 to April 8), and now they are enjoying their freedom. With patience, perseverance, courage they prevailed and finally saved the nation with relatively less price. By applying social distancing and strictly adhering to the directives issued by the government, they kept themselves, their loved ones and fellow human beings. They deserve great appreciation and congratulations.

The leadership

It is important here to clearly state the role of each actor. At the official reporting of the virus, the Communist Party of China (CPC) had analysed the nature of the virus and weighed the plausible policy options. The Secretary-General of CPC Central Committee and President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Mr Xi Jinping, declared the fight against COVID-19, by making a bold political statement. First and foremost, the President asserted that China is committed, determined and can defeat the virus.

This call set the political direction and tone, followed by a set of measures to be implemented carefully at all levels.  Setting policy directives, procedures and protocols on protection and creating national task-force and allocating the necessary resources was the first thing in a series of actions taken by the leadership. China, a country with the oldest bureaucracy, has refined structures on both accounts of the party and the government structures, from the Centre to the grassroots level. Secondly, the government also quickly organised national task-force under the State Council, the party being at the lead position.

The State Council brought all relevant institutions together and pooled resources necessary for fighting COVID-19. The day-to-day monitoring of the execution of the was done rigorously.

It is evident that Wuhan needed extra resources and support and hence mobilising health professionals from other provinces and the army was necessary. This was done at a fantastic speed of light. The social arrangement was meticulously decentralised at all levels of administration to the grassroots level with flexibility to adjust to local circumstance with main parameters kept in check.

The national mobilisation to fight COVID-19 was astonishing and impressive, whether it was human, financial or material resources needed to execute the direction set by the government effectively. That indicated the critical role of the political commitment and determination by the political leadership.

The other critical issue was the Chinese capability to manage the crisis. Among other things, construction of a 1,000-bed hospital in 10 days, increasing the production capacity of protection gears from a million a day to tens of millions, was simply unbelievable. With firm commitment, China has shown to the world that it can deliver.

Coupled with this was, the controlling work done by the Chinese health system. The capacity to screen, diagnose, test and treat those positive increased daily. The health professionals were mobilised like an army in the shortest possible time and descended in Wuhan. Information has it that about 42,600 medical experts from all over China have been in service in Wuhan. Thanks to their patriotism, about 94% of those infected in Hubei did manage to recover.

The Role of the General Public

The role of the public in the fight against COVID-19, I think, was  an indispensable factor in the positive result achieved. Fighting COVID-19, like any national crisis could have not been as successful as we see it today, without the involvement of the public. The role of the public in the protection exercise was absolutely imperative. The Chinese society is hierarchical.

If we were to go by the Chinese experience, the role of the public including the residents of Wuhan in the containment of COVID-19 was simply irreplaceable. The Chinese government declared the lockdown of Wuhan on the eve of the Chinese Spring festival. After the end of the initially planned ten days, the government further extended the holidays and for all returning holidaymakers 14 days isolation was imposed and the public obliged. Those who did not move in the first place were asked to remain indoors, and many cities usually crowded looked like ghost cities, including the capital, Beijing.

Social distancing and personal hygiene and use of protective gears as guided by the relevant authorities were fully observed. Few outliers were brought to comply with strict enforcement. Such loyal and disciplined participation by the 1.4 billion Chinese citizens, undoubtedly, played a significant share in the protection and containment strategy designed by the Chinese government. Local and community workers with their enviable diligence, duty-boundness and patriotism were just exemplary.

The Role of the Medical and Health Professionals

The role played by medical experts in the fight against COVID-19 cannot be explained enough by using the superlatives we usually use. It was an untold sacrifice as they risked their own lives and went beyond and above their regular call of duty. The Chinese health experts took the fight as a matter of national pride. It was a question of proving to the world the Chinese capability, as stated by their leader. The fighting spirit and the patriotism was indicative of how determined they were to demonstrate to the rest of the world that China can do it.

Over 42,000 Chinese from different corners of China were mobilised and assembled in Wuhan for this national fight. Today, they are heroes and heroines of the Chinese nation and indeed of humanity for that matter. In the same vein, health-care workers grappling with this pandemic all over the world with weak facilities and insufficient protection gears deserve our praise and constant support.

Without their selfless scarifies, the world would have witnessed more fatalities and less recovery. In better words can I express the role of health care workers than the terms of British PM Boris Johnson when he owed his recovery to them. Many fellow human beings are today with their families, thanks for the unparalleled service of our health care workers. Wherever they may be, they all deserve our appreciation and our strongest support

Media and Information Dissemination

The media, as in other cases played an extremely vital role in the process. Daily briefing online or acceptable distance was one crucial tool not only provide information but also educating and creating awareness among the population. As much as there was fake news, social media with its broad reach also positively contributed. Media should play in creating national consensus and international solidarity.

Application of Technology

China has widely applied the available technology in the fight against COVID-19. Big data was used in generating information every 24 hours from every part of China and data was readily available every morning. Subsequently, one could survey the status of the virus not only in China but also in all countries where the virus was reported. Live updates helped to follow the trends.

China also applied artificial intelligence (AI) to the extent that some robots were used in providing services and helped to avoid contacts with critical patients. Several other technologies were used in the treatment and also in reach and vaccine development. It is the combination of all these factors that helped China to mitigate the catastrophe caused by COVID-19 with relatively a minimum cost. [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 April 2020]

Photo: China opened Wuhan early April after 76-day lockdown. Credit: Anadolu Agency.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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