Sat. Apr 17th, 2021

A SovereignPH.com EXCLUSIVE

A survey of Covid-19 implications from an international perspective

by Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan

Chapter 6

China flattens the curve

The New York Times reported from Hongkong that on April Fools’ Day, the Chinese province of Hubei, where the corona virus pandemic was first disclosed, will start allowing most of its 60 million residents to leave, ending nearly two months of lockdown and sending a strong signal of the government’s confidence that its tough measures have worked to control the outbreak.

The government however said Wuhan, the provincial capital and the city hardest hit by the virus, will remain sealed off until April 8, though public transportation there will start running.

The loosening restrictions on Hubei still do not mean unrestricted travel within China especially for travelers from elsewhere as epidemiologists say full resumption of travel, work and normal daily life could renew the virus’s spread.

 “We need to worry about a second wave of the outbreak once restrictions are limited,” Malik Peiris, chief of virology at the University of Hong Kong, said. “It is important to be aware of it and monitor it — and be prepared to re-impose these measures if they become necessary in the future.”

Easing of the lockdown shows that China appears to have successfully tamed the epidemic after implementing sweeping restrictions on hundreds of millions of people, while governments elsewhere flounder.

Agence France-Presse said that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization believes China’s battle with the corona virus offers a beacon of hope, but others question whether Beijing’s strategy can be followed by other countries — particularly Western democracies.

By March 22, China has reported only one new local infection over the past four days, a seemingly remarkable turnaround given the chaos that surrounded the initial outbreak in the city of Wuhan.

While some experts caution against accepting Beijing’s figures at face value, Ghebreyesus insisted China’s success “provides hope for the rest of the world”.

The wire report said China is a particular case — a centrally-controlled, top-down, one-party authoritarian state that allows no dissent and can mobilize vast resources on a single issue.

In January, China effectively shut down Wuhan and placed its 11 million residents in effective quarantine — a move it then replicated in the rest of Hubei province, putting 50 million people in mass isolation. Across the rest of the country, residents were strongly encouraged to stay at home.

“Containment works,” Sharon Lewin, professor of medicine at the University of Melbourne, told AFP. “Two weeks after the closure of Wuhan, which is exactly the incubation period, the number (of infections) started to drop.”

Extreme social distancing and home quarantines have been used to differing degrees by a rising number of European countries, with some US states reluctantly following suit because an Imperial College in London study warned it carried “enormous social and economic costs” in the short and long term.

The study said “The major challenge of suppression is that this type of intensive intervention package …. will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more),” it said.

At least 42,000 doctors and medical personnel were sent to Hubei province to shore up the province’s health services which had, according to public health professor Zheng Zijie from Peking University, essentially “collapsed” under the strain of the fast-spreading epidemic.

China’s ability to mobilize small armies of medical workers did not come with protection from contagion. More than 3,300 medical staff were infected across the country and 13 have died from Covid-19, according to health ministry figures published early March.

Government efforts in China were backed by an arsenal of propaganda, with messages repeated incessantly in the media and large street banners calling on citizens to be hygienic and stay home.

In an extraordinary effort — trumpeted by state media – China built two new hospitals with a total capacity of 2,300 beds in Wuhan within 10 days.

In cities, it quickly became necessary to wear a mask as apartment blocks, businesses and even parks barred entry without one. Widespread mask use may have helped slow the spread of the disease, “particularly when there are so many asymptomatic virus carriers”, Zheng said.

During the crisis China produced up to 1.6 million N95 respirator masks per day, according to the official Xinhua news agency. These are considered the most effective protection, but need to fit correctly and be changed often.

To boost detection rates, temperature checkpoints were installed outside buildings and shops, or in public places. “If it’s higher than 37.3 degrees Celsius (99.1 Fahrenheit), you are put in isolation,” one guard at the entrance to a park in Beijing told Agence France-Presse.

And in the high-tech country where privacy is limited, many localities require citizens to show a QR code on their phone that rates them as “green”, “yellow” or “red”. This assessment — based on tracking of whether they visited a high-risk zone — is now an entrance requirement for many businesses. Government announcements have made clear that the coding system will remain in use in some form even after the pandemic subsides.

The ruling Communist Party was heavily criticized at first as being harsh, and to use the word again “draconian” but past weeks have demonstrated that China’s strategy is the best model for other countries.

Jumpstarting the economy

As Hubei now relaxes, the urgency of restarting its economy becomes the priority. In certain sectors, China has admitted drops in double digits.

Marketwatch.com reflects that a similar outbreak in China in 2003 involving SARS might be a template for how the corona virus scare plays out. “Back then, China’s economic growth briefly came to a halt as the country sought to corral a virus that killed almost 800 people. SARS soon petered out and China’s economy snapped back.”

Carl Weinberg, founder and chief economist at High Frequency Economics, said in an interview that while it may be too early to declare the economic recovery of China can be underway, policy makers there appear to have a better handle of the situation.

He said: “We’re way behind the curve on it.”

Ian Bremmer, president and founder of the Eurasia Group, told MarketWatch, “The Chinese are in a much stronger position than they have been coming out of any recent global crisis.

“They own most of the global medical supply chain. They’ve basically contained the virus through technology-powered, authoritarian surveillance, and they’ve leveraged this success by providing aid to Europe and emerging markets, in their respective fight against Covid-19.”

Even as China’s economy has taken a large hit from the outbreak, and will continue to suffer from falling global demand as it spreads throughout Europe and the United States, the country does appear to be opening for business, with the city of Wuhan — where the outbreak began in December — scheduled to lift its lockdown during the first week of April.

The impression is the corona virus pandemic gripping the globe may have been first reported in China, but experts are saying that current trends indicate the crisis will leave it in a much stronger position geopolitically relative to the United States.

Olympics postponed

As the roadmaps to recovery in China begin to unfold, on final week of March towards April Fools’ day, Japan postpones the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, a first since World War II.

In a stunning but predictable move, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced an agreement has been reached with International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach for the Tokyo Olympics to be moved until summer of 2021 at the latest as the pandemic conditions to linger.

Japan Times said the announcement came after Abe met with Bach, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee President Yoshiro Mori and Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto.

Abe said that owing to the severity of the world condition, the safety of both athletes and visitors to the games played a major role in the decision to delay the games.

THE AUTHOR

Ado Paglinawan is a daily commentator at Radyo Pilipinas1, and a regular columnist at the newest daily news website SovereignPH.com and its partner magazine The Sovereign. He is a former Philippine diplomat, serving in the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York as press attaché, spokesman and special assistant to Ambassador Emmanuel N. Pelaez. He has served a strategic consultant to Agriculture Secretary Luisito Lorenzo, Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon and Finance Secretary Roberto de Ocampo. He studied for 1 5 years at San Beda College from grade 1 to 4th year college majoring in English and Philosophy, minor in political science and history. He is a veteran of the First Quarter Storm, participating as president of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines. Ado has taken continuing studies in world politics and diplomacy, international public relations, information technology and remote sensing, Christian and Islamic studies in various universities in Washington DC.

(ia/SovereignPH.com)

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