John Ross: Why countries should learn from China’s fight against COVID-19

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John Ross: Why countries should learn from China’s fight against COVID-19

2020-05-14

By John Ross    Source: China Daily    Published: 2020-05-13


Faced with COVID-19’s onslaught, not one single life will be saved in any country by propaganda, politicization of the crisis or similar diversions. On the contrary, many lives are lost as a result of these – because they obstruct the necessary lessons to fight the virus’s attack.


As bluffing will not stop the coronavirus, only correct actions will, it is therefore vital every country learns lessons from China’s successful handling of this crisis.


Some countries have fortunately, and successfully, been able to essentially lock the virus out of their states – New Zealand, for example, basically achieved this. But this path is not open to those countries where the coronavirus has already significantly invaded.


Because the facts show China has been more successful than any other country that suffered a major outbreak in suppressing the virus, any country which does not learn the lessons of China’s success is threatening the safety of its own people.


Other countries, for example South Korea or Slovakia, have been pointed to as successful examples of suppressing the virus. Indeed, compared to the situation unfolding in the US and some West European countries - such as the UK, Italy or Spain - these places have been highly successful. Every single possible lesson must be drawn from all such countries.


In measuring success in fighting the virus a single criterion is decisive - people’s lives, not words. Given countries’ different populations, the most meaningful indicator of success or failure in containing/suppressing the coronavirus is deaths per capita.


Based on World Health Organization daily situation reports, China has suffered 3.3 deaths per million of population from COVID-19. Even a relatively successful country such as South Korea has suffered 4.9 per million, and the Slovak Republic 4.8 deaths per million – that is, 50 percent higher death rates than China.


The situation in the US and some countries in Western Europe is incomparably worse. The US has suffered 211 deaths per million, the UK 465 deaths per million, Italy 501 deaths per million, and Spain 560 deaths per million. The death rate per capita is sixty times higher in the US than in China, 140 times higher in the UK, 150 times higher in Italy, and in Spain 170 times higher.


What is the conclusion that flows from these facts? China was the first country to suffer the virus’s onslaught – the one country which did not, due to China’s international alerts, have any forewarning of what was coming.


It was in late December 2019 that the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention detected cases of “pneumonia of unknown cause”. On Dec 30, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission issued an urgent notification to medical institutions ordering efforts to treat such patients. Starting Dec 31, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission released briefings on the pneumonia outbreak.


Starting on Jan 3, China regularly informed the WHO and relevant countries, including the US, about the pneumonia outbreak. On January 8 the heads of the China and US Centres for Disease Control (CDCs) talked over the phone to discuss technological exchanges and cooperation.


By Jan 11 China released DNA sequencing data on the new coronavirus –key scientific information for all countries and a remarkable feat in such a short period when at that time there were only 41 known cases of the virus. From that moment every country knew from a scientific point of view the threat it faced.


On Jan 23, China adopted a strict lockdown in Hubei province. This was the decisive moment in fighting the virus. If the virus had spread throughout China hundreds of thousands would have died. While there was a horrific outbreak in Hubei and Wuhan underwent immense suffering, the lockdown prevented the virus from spreading on a large scale into the rest of China.


As the Financial Times’ Martin Wolf and others have pointed out, this was the decisive difference between China’s successful suppression of the virus and the situation in the US and other countries. In China a full-scale outbreak was confined to Hubei, while in the US a large-scale coronavirus outbreak spread throughout the country – as also occurred in some West European countries.


The conclusion from these facts is evident. China was the one country in the world which had no advance knowledge, it forewarned the entire world and was the most successful country in getting the virus under control. Any country not learning from that is not helping, but is endangering its citizens.


The author is a senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.