Coronavirus: How China has achieved a dramatic fall in new Covid-19 infections, from a strict lockdown to building sterilization
Old habits die hard and the Chinese Communisty Party was initially slow to recognise – or admit to – the significance of the new coronavirus that was first reported in the city of Wuhan last November. But, as I News writes, that same authoritarian streak may also explain why mainland China then moved decisively to contain the disease with a de facto quarantine of Hubei, the epicentre province. China’s falling rate of new infections could make it a case study on how to bring the coronavirus under control. It still accounts for more than half of all global Covid-19 cases, yet it has almost capped them: while China has recorded a total of 80,945 cases, that was up by just 22 on Friday. By contrast, Britain announced 208 new cases.
The main measure imposed by the Chinese government is a strict lockdown: on 23 January, Wuhan and 15 other cities in Hubei province were placed under strict quarantine after the area was inundated with coronavirus infections. Healthcare workers were drafted in from all over the country to help, and two hospitals were built in just over a week to care for the rising number of patients.
The lockdown affected some 56 million people. Public transport services shut down, including buses, railways, flights, and ferries. Wuhan’s airport, railway station and metro transit system closed, and no-one could leave the city without permission. Soon after, factories, offices and schools closed.\
Authorities use popular social platforms and apps to monitor movement, with a green, yellow and red traffic-light system on mobile phones helping officials determine if the user should be allowed past guards at train stations and other checkpoints.
There are other measures. Businesses close at 6pm to get sprayed with disinfectant. Street fumigation takes place regularly. Building sterilisation takes place several times a day. Passengers have to wear face masks to ride in taxis, take public transport, or enter any business. Temperature readings are mandatory upon entering an office building. Entire neighbourhoods are blocked off to non-residents, with security personnel patrolling.
China also moved to mitigate any economic damage. Beijing required banks to waived penalty interests for the virus-hit businesses and agreed to speed up investment in “new infrastructure” in the region, including 5G networks and data centre.
As other countries impose containment measures, China’s experience is only partly replicable. Europeans may be less inclined to follow strict instructions from a hierarchy. Yet some of the Chinese success is being credited less to obedience to a police state than to a collective sense of responsibility.
Across Hubei, the message about public health struck home, prompting people to wash hands more regularly, reduce travel and not overburden health systems.
China’s method is not the only Asian example in suppressing Covid-19. Singapore moved quickly and also succeeded in halting the spread, with just over 200 confirmed coronavirus cases there and no deaths.
The country’s experience with the 2003 Sars outbreak in which 33 people died meant that precautions were already in place. These included ready-made government quarantine facilities and a 330-bed, state-of-the-art national centre for managing infectious diseases that opened last year. And as a small island city-state, Singapore could easily track points of access and departure.
Citizens who returned to Singapore from affected countries were immediately placed under quarantine conditions – and anyone caught giving false information to the authorities faces six months in prison.