China’s rearguard actions to arrest COVID-19 spread offer lessons for India: health experts

BEIJING, Mar 28: As the coronavirus outbreak in China seems to have ebbed for now amidst international criticism of its initial cover up, health experts here say Beijing’s tough actions to contain the pandemic at its epicentre in Wuhan and the massive resource mobilisation at short notice offer some lessons for India.
While the cases and casualties of COVID-19 in Italy, Spain and the US surpassed that of China where the virus first emerged, there is a growing curiosity here on how India is going to deal with the pandemic and whether the country’s ongoing 21-day lockdown will help contain the virus outbreak.
India’s nationwide lockdown is broadly compared to that of China’s sledgehammer clampdown of over 56 million residents of cental Hubei province and its capital Wuhan since January 23, which reported over 68,000 cases of the country’s total 81,340 COVID-19 infections and 3,292 deaths as of Thursday.
While China’s lockdown of Wuhan was aimed at confining the disease to the province, the all India shutdown, on the contrary, is aimed at preventing the emergence of Wuhan-like epicentres, the experts said here.
The all India shutdown came as a surprise for health experts here as China had locked down only Hubei province during the worst run of the virus. Though the rest of the country came to a standstill, it remained largely open.
But the international health experts point out that the coronavirus has become such a huge problem for the world to prevent epicentres from emerging because Beijing acted late, which some US officials allege was an attempt to cover-up the crisis.
While China shutdown Hubei province and its capital Wuhan on January 23, India and the world began voicing concerns way before.
A Chinese doctor who spoke of the signs of the virus outbreak in January first week was punished for warning about the SARS-like virus. Unfortunately, the doctor died later of COVID-19.
It is still a mystery why China did not act on time though recent studies showed that the first cases of COVID-19 emerged as early as November and became visible by December by which time some of the doctors in Wuhan began warning people about it.
“Perhaps it would have been less of a problem for China and the world had the Chinese government acted well before the Chinese New Year holidays in the fourth week of January by which time over five million residents of the province left for holiday destinations within the country and abroad,” an international health expert working for a global organisation said on condition of anonymity.
While China’s massive response to control the spread of the virus after the lockdown of Wuhan and Hubei province came for global praise. The ruling Communist party’s late response in curbing the virus came for sharp criticism at home and abroad.
Initially, India and the world succeeded in stemming the virus entering their borders by banning flights and travellers from China. In the early days, most of the cases abroad, including the three Indian students who returned to Kerala, were from Wuhan.
“It is because of these early birds from Wuhan who flew to different countries like Italy and the European Union, the virus began to emerge in different countries through the back door”, as people of those countries as well as holidaymakers visited India or returned to the country from holidays, the expert said.
“This is what an early detection and less secretive approach to contain vicious viruses like COVID-19 help,” the expert said.
Health experts said China’s subsequent response from January 20 to deal with the virus resulting in bringing the virus under control offered several lessons for India and other countries.
While China locked down Hubei province, it ensured putting in place a proper mechanism to supply all essential commodities to the doorsteps of people.
China also did not ban the e-commerce giants like Taobao, Alibaba and others who maintained regular supply of food and other materials in across the country.
The government pressed millions of residential complexes in Beijing and other cities to begin monitoring of body temperatures.
China made full use of its expertise in AI (Artificial Intelligence) in tracing most of the people from Wuhan and Hubei province who had travelled out of the province and began monitoring their health in hospitals or quarantine centres.
China also deployed thousands of military medical personnel as well as soldiers to Hubei province and they helped local authorities to set up huge makeshift field hospitals in record time which also helped in treating the surging number of COVID-19 patients.
A leading group with Premier Li Keqiang as its head has top officials from all ministries who reviewed in detail various aspects of the work on the day-to-day basis ensuring the success of China’s top-down approach of governance, which converted a massive initial failure into a huge success by bringing the virus under control, the experts said.
Officials said initially about 3,000 medical personnel were infected by the virus because of lack of equipment but subsequently the situation improved as China procured massive amounts of protective equipment like gloves and masks, medical suits from home and abroad.
While it is a commendable performance, China mostly dealt with one epicentre with moderate spread across the country, but in India’s case there is no epicentre yet and the 21-day lockdown will be a success if it prevents the virus from becoming a pandemic in the country, the experts said. (PTI)