Combatting Coronavirus: Learning from China experience
ORF, 12 March 2020, By RAJIV RANJAN
Coronavirus, officially named COVID-19 by WHO, has infected more than 100,000 people of over 100 countries, areas and territories across the world. The first patient of the virus was reportedly identified on 8 December 2019, in Wuhan, China’s Hubei province. The initial report of the SARS-like virus by a group of doctors of Wuhan Hospital was treated as a rumour and suppressed by the local authorities. It was believed that misinformation and misunderstanding about the virus could create a panic in people who were preparing for the oncoming festivities for the Year of the Rat. The Year of the Rat considered to be inauspicious by the Chinese. Some of the gravest times witnessed by the Chinese in the past – for example, the Opium War of 1840, the Boxer War of 1900, the famine of 1960, and Yangzte floods of 1998 and the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, were all in the ‘Rat’ years.
China has a history of well-documented epidemic diseases. Before 1840 AD, 826 epidemics have been mentioned in different historical records. Some of the outbreaks were: i) In Three Kingdom, during the Battle of Radcliffe; ii) During 13th year of Tianbao of Tang Dynasty; iii) Late Southern Song Dynasty, when Manogolian army besieged Sichuan Diaoyu City, 1259 and 1279, recorded in History of Yuan Dynasty and iv) 1641-43, the period of declining Ming and rising Qing, recorded in Record of Chongzhen. The nation also came in for international criticism for its poor handling of the SARS epidemic, especially its lack of promptness in alerting the world about the infection.
However, once it was confirmed that the coronavirus could transmit from human to human and that it’s a new type of a virus strain for which there is no apparent cure, the whole state machinery started concerted action to contain the virus on a war footing. A city of 11 million, Wuhan was locked down to prevent the spread of the virus. Even the party chief of Wuhan city and Hubei province were swiftly sacked for their mishandling of the outbreak. Moreover, other cities in China, too, went on to adopt a voluntary or unofficial quarantine mode. The result was remarkable. The spread of the virus and the reports of new cases have virtually come down to zero in China – including the Hubei province.
Therefore, at a time when the COVID-19 cases and resulting deaths are increasing worldwide, it is time for the world, especially densely populated countries such as India to learn from China to contain the virus. First, China was able to control the infections by meticulously tracing the patients and their contacts. For this, technology came handy in locating and isolating those infected as well as those who were suspected to be infected. To trace the co-passengers, a dedicated search-engine and listwas put in place to ascertain all those who had been in close proximity or physical contact of a suspected coronavirus patient during journeys in railways, fights, buses or cars. India must put a similar mechanism to identify the infected and those with whom they have come in contact to minimise the spread.
Second, China mobilised and made at least 50 percent of its medical services operational 24×7 to reduce crowding in large hospitals for basic treatment and delivery of medicine. Doctors and medical staff were fed the right information about the virus. In addition, hostels, hotels, warehouses and apartments were prepared to function as alternate quarantine wards to cope up with any unforeseen eventuality. This was not just the case in Wuhan, but in all the major cities across China – even where the virus had not yet infected anyone.
Third, Chinese social media Sina Weibo and Party’s newspaper People’s Daily ran a live ticker about infected persons. They even developed a live map app that showed the person infected with the virus, not to stigmatise the patient, but minimise the chances of others coming into contact with him/her. Similarly, the power of social media platforms prevalent in India, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram should be leveraged to educate the public about the symptoms and other information about coronavirus. It is of paramount importance that social media is not abused for the spread of wrong information. In the initial days of the lockdown, migrant labourers from Wuhan fled to their villages without reporting to the authorities, putting the villagers on the risk of infection. However, within days, they were all traced, and quarantined in their respective villages, with all their relatives and other contacts put under 24×7 surveillance.
Fourth, with the spread of the virus, there are high possibilities that people start hoarding protective gear, leading to a steep hike in their prices. Considering the vast differences in the public health systems of India and China, it will be a big task for authorities in India to ensure a steady supply and crack down on hoarders. To begin with, like China, India too, must start regulating the sale of masks and other protective gear in all the cities with more prevalence of the coronavirus cases.
Fifth, visitors and commuters at public places and public transport modes must be scanned for body temperatures to limit the infections. Due to lack of infrastructure at the airports, domestic and international passengers get mixed, stand in the same queues for thermal scanning, thereby increasing the risk of infections. While there is no doubt that all passengers must be scanned, mixing potential patients with normal passengers increase the chances of spread. Airport personnel must work in shifts and they must be compensated for their extra works. Also, paramilitary personnel stationed at public places like metros, airports etc. to physically frisk passengers must use disinfectants and wear proper safety gear to minimise the spread.
Sixth, school and colleges must also restrict the entry of outsiders to protect the residents of the campus.
Seventh, all public health centres and public places must display correct information about the COVID-19. Even civil society organisations and volunteer groups should be engaged to educate the public and create awareness.
Eighth, all essential documents and messages on the disease must be translated into regional languages of India and circulated widely. Despite Mandarin being the national language of China, information about COVID-19 was disseminated in English, Tibetan, Ugyur and scores of other languages for benefit of the inhabitants of the country’s minority regions. Such official information must be disseminated across the country by political parties, media houses and civil society groups to ensure that the correct messaging is given in a manner that it reaches all the targeted groups – even the remotest of corners.
Social media accounts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, film stars and other celebrities must be used to educate people and create awareness about coronavirus. Fact-checkers such as FactChecker, AltNews and others can provide their services to refute misinformation and quell rumours.
In its single-minded crackdown against the Coronavirus, China has ensured that the impact of the epidemic was not only contained largely to just the Wuhan city of its Hubei province, but also that in just a matter of weeks, the spread of the disease has completely stopped. India, and indeed the rest of the world must learn from China’s experience and ensure that the government, civil society and the public launch a concerted and well-coordinated effort to defeat the virus.