How China was able to vanquish Covid so quickly

How China was able to vanquish Covid so quickly

On Sept 8, China held a national ceremony to honour those heroes who fought against the Covid-19 epidemic at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where President Xi Jinping delivered a speech applauding China's triumph.

The epidemic was considered a major public health emergency with the most rapid spread, the widest range, and causing the toughest prevention and control measures since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. However, China successfully contained it in just three months, while many other countries are still desperately struggling. How did China do so? There were three key pillars underpinning its success, namely: Strong leadership, a comprehensive mechanism, and broad support.

First, strong leadership ensured the right direction and strategy in the war on Covid-19. Although some may not be willing to admit it, there is no doubt that there was strong leadership was from the Communist Party of China (CPC), with President Xi Jinping at the core. To study the epidemic, 21 ad-hoc meetings were convened in the party's top decision-making body.

Premier Li Keqiang was appointed to head the Leading Group of the CPC Central Committee on the Response to the Covid-19 Outbreak. The CPC Central Committee also sent a dedicated Central Guidance Group (CGG) led by Vice Premier Sun Chunlan to Wuhan city and Hubei province. From Jan 27 to April 27, the CGG stayed in the epicentre for three months and directly steered the battle from the frontlines. More than 4.6 million grassroots party organisations led the fight on the ground across the country.

In comparison, the US has become the worst-hit country by Covid-19, because there is almost "no leadership" around how to combat the epidemic under the Trump administration.

Second, only a comprehensive mechanism could fully cope with the Covid-19 crisis. Covid-19 is not only a serious public health issue, but also a complex economic, social, and political problem, which needs systematic responses. In January, China set up the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council (JPCMSC) at the central government level, consisting of 32 agencies and covering disease prevention and control, scientific research, publicity, foreign affairs, logistics support, and frontline work.

Under the JPCMSC, the whole of Chinese society was mobilised and integrated into a centralised mechanism. Local governments, communities, enterprises, hospitals, research institutions, schools, military forces, and NGOs not only performed their own duties, but also cooperated with one another. Evidence of the effectiveness of such comprehensive mechanisms was when two makeshift hospitals (Huoshenshan and Leishenshan) and 16 mobile cabin hospitals were built within just a couple of days. China also established a seamless and effective process to find, test, isolate, and treat Covid-19 cases.

Third, without broad support, the battle against Covid-19 would have failed. The Covid-19 battle ought to be a "people's war" in which everybody plays a role. Mask-wearing, social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine are effective ways to reduce its spread. However, those practices need the individual to have discipline and to fully obey; these are seen to be against the so-called "personal freedom" of the West.

With the understanding and cooperation from 1.4 billion Chinese people, the Chinese government was able to implement the most comprehensive prevention and control measures to battle the epidemic. By contrast, many western countries have been facing policy failures as their residents are not so supportive.

Without broad support from the whole nation and overseas Chinese nationals, the virus epicentre in Wuhan would have not recovered so quickly. When Wuhan was devastated by the outbreak, over 40,000 medical workers across China and numerous personal protective equipment (PPE) -- donated by mainly overseas Chinese -- were generously sent to the city. Besides government aid, Chinese people voluntarily supported one another during the crisis.

From the chaotic panic to the comprehensive response and systematic recovery, China has demonstrated its remarkable resilience, adaptability, resourcefulness, and self-reliance. Dr Bruce Aylward, who led a World Health Organization team to China, stressed that the country's counterattack against the coronavirus can be replicated, but it will require speed, money, imagination and political courage. Unfortunately, many countries lack all.

Sun Xi, a 1980s China-born alumnus of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, is an independent commentary writer based in Singapore.

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