Concerted Efforts

China pulls out all the stops to prevent infections from spreading worldwide
by Wen Qing/Beijing Review
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Customs officials inspect protective suits donated by foreign governments and companies at the Changsha Huanghua International Airport in Hunan Province, central China, on February 3 (XINHUA)

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), China has carried out close cooperation with international organizations and governments on many fronts, including data-sharing, information notification and citizen evacuation, to curb the virus' global spread. Its efforts and transparency were lauded by World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said that Chinese officials have shown they are committed to combating the transmission of the virus and demonstrated cooperation with other countries to stem its global spread.

During President Xi Jinping's meeting with Dr. Tedros in Beijing on January 28, Xi said that China looks forward to continuing positive cooperation with WHO in sharing information about the emergency.

Pragmatic and transparent

Since this strain of coronavirus was never seen before in human history, the whole world is keeping a close eye on China's prevention and control efforts.

The country has been pragmatic and transparent in working with WHO since the beginning of the outbreak. On December 31, 2019, the WHO China Country Office was informed of cases of pneumonia with unknown etiology detected in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province in central China. On January 11-12, WHO received detailed information from China's National Health Commission that the outbreak was associated with exposure to a local seafood market.

China has kept daily contact with WHO and implemented comprehensive multi-sectoral approaches to prevent further viral spread. On January 10, it shared the genetic sequence of the 2019-nCoV, which enabled countries to develop diagnostic kits, quickly identify and then treat the infected, and ensure better health outcomes and containment of the virus.

Sharing these sequences can be sensitive and risky. Samples provided freely by developing countries are often used by companies in developed countries for vaccines and other products that are patented and sold for profit and are usually inaccessible and unaffordable to these same developing countries. This is why Indonesia stopped sharing samples with WHO during the outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu in 2007, wanting a guarantee that it would share in the benefits derived from the isolates it provided.

But it can also prompt instant research and concerted efforts to combat a virus. Analyses began immediately after scientists globally obtained the 2019-nCoV sequence. According to Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Andrew Rambaut, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh, found that the virus has an 89-percent similarity to severe acute respiratory syndrome-related (SARS) members of the sarbecoviruses. Ralph Baric, a coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina, noted that of the four known SARS-related viruses carried by bats and capable of infecting humans, this one is the most distant from SARS itself. After downloading the sequence, his lab immediately began to attempt to reverse-engineer a live virus from the sequence, which can help develop antibody tests and start experiments on animals.

China's timely and transparent move was recognized worldwide. Jeremy Farrar, head of Wellcome Trust, a research charity in London, tweeted that China's move was a "potentially really important moment in global public health," adding that the "sharing of data is good for public health, great for those who did the work." U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar noted that China made the virus' genetic sequence available to scientists promptly, helping the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a rapid diagnostic test in a week's time.

Moreover, China also provided assistance to other countries' disease control efforts. For example, China alerted German officials to investigate what became the first human-to-human transmission of the virus in Europe, a man who had contact with a visiting colleague from Shanghai. By translating the Public Prevention of Pneumonia Caused by Novel Coronavirus, a book of guidelines, into six foreign languages, namely English, French, Russian, German, Japanese and Korean, China encouraged other countries to draw from its experience in preventing the spread of infection.

For countries that evacuated their citizens from Wuhan, the Chinese Government maintains close communication and coordination.

Hubei set up a 24-hour hotline for foreign citizens to access advice and assistance. A special column titled Fighting 2019-nCoV is available on the Foreign Ministry's website, providing the latest information from the National Health Commission to keep foreigners updated.

All inbound and outbound Chinese group tours have been temporarily suspended. People have also been advised to be "responsible global citizens" and not travel abroad in order to reduce risks to other countries.

While shouldering its global responsibility, China is making all-out efforts to contain the virus' spread and treat those affected within the country. People in Wuhan and surrounding cities have been requested not to travel. Most provinces and major cities have activated their highest level of emergency response.

Global response

China's response impressed Dr. Tedros, who said, "I will praise China again and again because its actions actually helped in reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus to other countries."

As of February 3, 153 people were diagnosed with 2019-nCoV outside China, 15 of them were cured and one Chinese national died in the Philippines. "We would have seen many more cases outside China by now, and probably deaths, if it were not for the government's efforts and the progress they have made to protect their own people and the people of the world," Dr. Tedros said.

As the epidemic continues, unease and worries are mounting, which is understandable. But in some parts of the world, concern has turned into discrimination and racism against Chinese people. Experts are asking people to treat this epidemic in a rational and scientific way. Diseases do not discriminate against race, ethnicity, country or gender.

"We need to explore various channels to explain to foreigners that this is a public health event, not a matter of nationality or even race," said Zhang Guihong, Director of the Center for the United Nations and International Organizations at Fudan University. "More importantly, we will continue to inform the international community in a timely, objective, transparent and professional manner. We will also help countries with weak health systems to actively carry out preventive actions."

"We cannot allow a virus of fear and xenophobia to destroy our global relations at any level," Tom Watkins, an adviser to the Michigan-China Innovation Center in the U.S., told Beijing Review. This virus should teach us that a wall will not prevent an epidemic and that we are truly better when we work together, he added.

China's fight against the 2019-nCoV has gained support and encouragement worldwide. Epidemic prevention and control supplies sent by other countries and international organizations have been arriving in China.

Many multinational companies and wealthy individuals have also reached out. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $10-million donation to first responders in China and Africa, including $5 million for international cooperation, treatment and vaccine development. Boeing donated 250,000 medical-grade respiratory masks to people in Wuhan.

"We call for more support from the U.S., the EU and other developed countries in medical equipment and supplies, as well as their best practices in epidemic control," said a report published by the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, a prestigious think tank in China.

"A viral epidemic is the common enemy of all humanity," said Zhu Feng, Dean of the Institute of International Relations of Nanjing University. "It's also a major threat to the world economy and people's daily life. Therefore, countries should strengthen cooperation and work together to address this challenge."

The control and eventual win over the novel coronavirus epidemic is not China's responsibility alone, but the common responsibility of the international community, Zhu added.