China has beaten the coronavirus scientifically and with strong public health measures, not just authoritarianism
I live in a democracy. But as Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself longing for the freedom I see in China. In China, people can now move freely. Many Americans may believe that the Chinese can enjoy this freedom because of China’s authoritarian regime. As a Chinese public health researcher, I think the answers go beyond that. My research suggests that virus control in China is not the result of an authoritarian policy but a national health priority. China has learned a hard lesson with SARS, the first coronavirus epidemic of the 21st century. Just under a year ago, a new corona virus appeared in Wuhan, China, 80,000 cases were identified in three months, and 3,000 people died. In late January 2020, the Chinese government decided to close this city of 11 million inhabitants. All traffic to and from the city was stopped. Officials closed several other cities in Hubei Province, eventually quarantining more than 50 million people. Until early April, the Chinese government limited the spread of the virus to the point where it felt good when it reopened Wuhan. Seven months later, China confirmed an additional 9,100 cases and registered 1,407 additional deaths from the coronavirus. In China, people travel, eat in restaurants and go to theaters, and children go to school with particular concern for their health. Compared to what we are experiencing in the US To date, we have confirmed more than 11 million cases, with the last 1 million registered in the last week alone. In September and October, Chinese friends sent pictures of food from all over the country as they traveled around with friends and family at the fall festival and then the seven-day national holiday. I envied them then, and now I envy them even more as Americans prepare and think about how to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. What China has learned from SARS We Americans say that the freedoms that the Chinese now enjoy are at the expense of being subject to a draconian public health policy that can only be initiated by an authoritarian government. But they also have experience of experiencing a similar epidemic. SARS erupted in November 2002 and ended in May 2003, and China was just getting ready to release. It did not have the public health infrastructure to detect or combat such a disease, and initially decided to cover up the epidemic by prioritizing politics and the economy over health. It didn’t work with such a virulent disease that began to spread around the world. After being forced to reconcile with SARS, Chinese leaders eventually quarantined Beijing and canceled the May 2003 one-week holiday. This put an end to the epidemic with minimal impact within a few months. SARS has infected about 8,000 people worldwide and killed about 800, 65% of which occurred in China and Hong Kong. The Chinese government learned from SARS the important role of public health in protecting the nation. Following SARS, the government has improved the training of public health professionals and developed one of the most advanced disease surveillance systems in the world. While this next major coronavirus outbreak was not taken into account in December 2019, the country quickly mobilized its resources to bring the outbreak almost to its limits within three months. What can the United States learn from China? Knowing that there are no safe or proven treatments or an effective vaccine, China has relied on proven non-pharmaceutical interventions to conquer the epidemic. It was primarily the retention of the virus by controlling the sources of infection and blocking transmission. This was accomplished through early detection (testing), isolation, treatment, and the search for close relationships with any infected person. This strategy was aided by the government’s three field hospitals (fancang), which serve to isolate patients with mild to moderate symptoms from their families. Strict quarantine measures have also played a central role in preventing the spread of this epidemic, as was the case with the 2003 SARS epidemic. This was coupled with mandatory mask wearing, personal hygiene (hand washing, home disinfection, ventilation), self-sufficiency, body temperature monitoring, mandatory stay at home for all residents, and universal symptom assessments by community workers and volunteers. What else could the United States have done to prepare? SARS has uncovered serious weaknesses in China’s public health system and prompted its government to reinvent its public health system. COVID-19 revealed similar deficiencies in the U.S. public health system. To date, however, the current administration has taken the exact opposite approach, destroying our public health system. The Trump administration has made significant cuts to the budgets of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. The budget last submitted by the Trump government in February 2020 called for a further $ 693 million cut in the CDC’s budget at the start of the epidemic. This affected us to prepare for an outbreak. Previously, this preparation included international partnerships that help detect diseases before they reach our shores. For example, the CDC has established partnerships with China in the wake of the SARS epidemic to help curb the emergence of infectious diseases from the region. At one time, the CDC had 10 U.S. experts working on site in China and 40 local Chinese employees, mostly focused on infectious diseases. Shortly after Trump took office, these positions began to be cut, and by the time COVID-19 broke out, these programs were intended for skeletal personnel of one to two. [Research into coronavirus and other news from science Subscribe to The Conversation’s new science newsletter.]The Alma Ata Declaration guaranteed health for everyone, not just the health of people governed by a special bureaucratic system. The United States was as committed and able to be to protect the health of its people as China was under the dictatorial government. We proved this during the Ebola epidemic by launching a full government effort coordinated by Ron Klain, who was appointed White House chief of staff under President-elect Biden. This effort, which provided a coordinated response with both African nations and China, improved preparedness within the U.S. and ultimately helped save hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. Under the Trump administration, cutting funding for our public health infrastructure was an alienation of the health of the American people, and that should not have happened. A new administration that is once again putting public health at the forefront will, I hope, prove to us that health can be protected not only under an authoritarian government, but, in fact, everyone’s right. This article in Conversation A is a nonprofit news site that shares scientific experts ’ideas. Written by Elanah Uretsky, Brandeis University. More information: * Poor U.S. pandemic responses resonate in health policy for years, health researchers warn. * Experts agree that Trump’s coronavirus response was weak, but the United States was ill-prepared for Location: Elanah Uretsky does not work, consult, own shares, or receive support from companies or organizations that would benefit from this article, and did not disclose any relevant links beyond their academic appointment.